There are concerns that the latest spike in coronavirus transmissions may see more relationships taking a turn for the worse, after a surge in divorce enquiries following the nationwide lockdown.
Back to school traditionally sees a peak in petitions for divorce, but this autumn has seen a bigger number of distressed couples seeking support, according to divorce professionals.
Sadly, data from the Citizens Advice charity showed a 25% rise in searches for advice on divorce during the first weekend in September, compared with the same weekend last year. This trend has continued, replacing issues such as benefits and redundancy, which had been top search terms earlier in the pandemic.
The September surge is often attributed to families being forced into each other’s company during summer holidays, which may be the tip over point for those in already unstable relationships.
“The lockdown was, for some couples, a very intense period, with no way of taking a break or a day on your own,” said family law expert Sabina Smith at Wollens. “This has been a very tough year for everyone, but when your relationship is going through hard times it can seem like there is nowhere to turn.”
She added: “if the worst happens, getting some professional guidance early on can really help. When children are involved it is particularly important to try and have a positive, co-operative approach, especially with the ongoing challenges we all face in managing our lives through Covid-19.”
While it will not help those looking to divorce this year, on the horizon now is the prospect of no-fault divorce without a period of separation, after The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 received Royal Assent in July. This marks the biggest change on the pathway towards divorce since the Divorce Reform Act 1969.
In recent years the two-year separation rule, put in place in the 1969 Act, has come under criticism as being out of touch with current social attitudes, and too slow for couples who want to move on but need the financial settlement that comes with divorce. In such circumstances, couples have been more likely to cite unreasonable behaviour or adultery to obtain a speedier outcome, but this required one spouse to “blame” the other for the breakdown of the marriage.
Family Law Consultant, Sabina Smith
Rebecca Procter, Partner and Head of Family Law at Wollens said: “The new legislation brings the opportunity to divorce on more amicable territory as parties will not have to rely on the ‘blame game’.“
Under the new rules, which are expected to come into effect in autumn 2021, spouses can make a joint application for divorce if they choose to. Joint applications are already possible in many countries, but have never been permissible in England and Wales. And where only one spouse applies for divorce, it will no longer be possible for the other spouses to “defend” the divorce to stop it going through.
However, there will be new requirements on time frame, with a minimum period of 20 weeks from the date of the divorce application through to the Conditional Divorce Order, which is the equivalent of the Decree Nisi stage. After that, couples will have to wait a further six weeks before they can apply for the Final Divorce Order, which replaces what is currently known as the Decree Absolute.
Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020
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This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.