The number of applications was the highest since the first quarter of 2012 and an increase of 22% from the same period last year. Figures in the previous quarter compared to January – March in 2021 had fallen slightly. This suggests people were holding off divorcing until the new legislation came into effect.
The vast majority of the April-June applications (33,234) were made under the new law.
Joint applications for divorce
The law change is designed to help separating couples look to the future and focus on key practical decisions involving children or their finances.
The legislation also allows separating couples to file a joint application for divorce. 78% of the applications were from sole applicants and 22% from joint applicants, including those for the dissolution of civil partnership.
The MoJ data also shows there was a rise in the average length of proceedings for those divorcing under the old law,
The average time from petition date to receiving a decree nisi (conditional order) was 36 weeks, up 12 weeks on the same period in 2021.
And the average period from petition date to decree absolute (final order) was 56 weeks, up seven weeks from the same quarter in 2021.
Under the new law there’s a minimum 20 weeks between the start of proceedings and application for a conditional order. This provides a meaningful period of reflection and the chance to reconsider. Couples then have to wait a further six weeks before applying for a final order.
A new survey claims almost three quarters of those questioned after divorce hadn’t included one of the major financial assets in their settlement.
UK courts have allowed pension sharing orders since 2000. However, despite this, the survey found 7 in 10 of those divorced had not included pensions in their financial settlements.
Of the 948 Which? members surveyed in May who had divorced since the law changed, 71% hadn’t done so. The consumer champion said leaving pensions out can lead to unequal settlements as married women tend to have smaller pensions.
This is because women are still more likely to spend time away from the workplace looking after children. They also generally have lower earnings because of part-time, lower paid work.
Research by the University of Manchester and the Pensions Policy Institute found the average married woman aged 64-69 has accrued £28,000 in private pension savings, compared with £260,000 for men.
Which? said it was concerned some couples were potentially ignoring one of the biggest assets in their marriage. Pensions are generally considered to be the second largest financial asset in most couple’s relationship, after property.
Jenny Ross, Which? Money editor, said: “Wherever possible, we encourage people to seek legal and financial advice when embarking on divorce proceedings, in order to ensure they are equipped to make the best financial decisions for the future.”
For divorcing couples, family mediation can help sort out disputes without the need to go to court.
Mediation is a more informal way to resolve the conflicts and issues that can arise in divorce. The process is less stressful and quicker than going to court and therefore can also save money.
An independent, professionally trained mediator helps separating couples work out arrangements for children and finances following separation. Crucially these arrangements have to be acceptable to both parties.
Most arrangements need some give and take on both sides. Even so an agreed outcome is almost always preferable to the imposition of a solution by a judge.
Registered mediators can provide general legal information, but they cannot provide legal advice for your situation. For example, they can tell you what the law states about financial settlements on divorce in general, but they cannot apply that to your particular circumstances.
We recommend that legal advice is still taken as it can turn the written agreement into a legally binding document. You can consult your family law solicitor at any point in the process. Often it is best to do this both during the process and on any proposals that are agreed.
Family mediation vouchers
We’ve worked with many excellent mediators over the years, though it’s important to stress that every divorce is distinctive and not all are suitable for this approach.
Mediation is in the news right now as the Government has put funding in to support more divorce cases being resolved in this way.
Since being launched last March, separating couples have used 4,400 £500 Government vouchers to help fund their mediation.
This week the Government announced an extra £1.27 million is being invested in the scheme. That’s after research found 77 per cent of cases reached full or partial agreements away from the family courts.
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab, said: “I want to see children and their parents spared the stress and conflict of the courtroom as much as possible, and I’m delighted that thousands more will now have the opportunity to resolve their disputes in a less combative way.
“At the same time, it will free up vital capacity in the family courts to ensure the system can recover quickly from the pandemic.”
Want to know more and to see whether mediation is suitable for you? Call our free phoneline on 0800 285 1413 or email email@example.com.
→ We spoke with mediator Maura McKibbin previously about helping separated parents make new plans for holiday periods.
Divorce law reforms will not now come into effect until April 2022, the Government has announced.
The new ‘no fault’ divorce law – which can end a marriage without legal blame at the request of just one partner – was supposed to be in operation from this autumn. However, the government has admitted it needs more time to ensure a successful transition.
A statement from MP Chris Philp, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Home Office, said: “The Ministry of Justice is committed to ensuring that the amended digital service allows for a smooth transition from the existing service which has reformed the way divorce is administered in the courts and improved the service received by divorcing couples at a traumatic point in their lives.
“Following detailed design work, it is now clear that these amendments, along with the full and rigorous testing of the new system ahead of implementation, will not conclude before the end of the year.
Biggest reform in 50 years
“The Government recognises the need for clarity on when these important reforms will come into force. This will now be on the common commencement date of 6 April 2022. While this delay is unfortunate it is essential that we take the time to get this right.”
Mr Philp also said the (Divorce, Dissolution and Separation) Act ‘provides for the biggest reform of divorce law in 50 years and will reduce conflict between couples legally ending a marriage or civil partnership’.
The ‘no fault’ law removes the need to prove one of:
Two years separation (if the other party consents to a divorce)
Five years separation (where there is no consent).
It also takes away the possibility of one of the couple contesting the divorce.
As family lawyers we see every day the impact divorce can have on those involved and their loved ones. We know this time is often extremely challenging, uncertain and can be difficult to navigate for both parties.
So who better to give some practical divorce advice than those who’ve experienced it personally?
We asked divorcees what advice they would give a close friend going through a separation. Our interviewees responded within three key themes; looking after children, a positive attitude and obtaining sound legal and financial guidance.
Put children first
Those with children commonly focussed their advice around their care and well-being.
One individual called for divorcing parents not to use their children as ‘pawns’ and another suggested that minors shouldn’t be involved at all, unless completely necessary.
A response from another parent focussed entirely on the children in the divorce scenario, saying:
“Divorce is a painful experience for everyone involved. It can be made difficult if resentment towards a partner is expressed through the children.”
Divorce advice is also given about shared custody of children, with one parent reminding readers:
“If a mother or father was an acceptable parent before the divorce, they surely remain one during and after, so the family should be able to coexist on a mutually shared basis. This allows both parents to share children happily, leading to balanced, nurtured and contented kids. Enforced absence can feel like a bereavement for all involved.”
All of the comments obtained from those with children voiced the opinion that minors should be the priority throughout.
Another response focussed on getting through the tough process with a positive mindset, saying:
“Nobody wants to be in that situation, but remember that it has happened for a reason and it will come to an end and you will be happier.”
The advice suggests those going through separation take it a day at a time. Try not to be too hard on yourself as guilt can trip you up in the long run. Multiple responses expressed the importance of finding a confidante to talk to about the process:
“You will be amazed at how many people will relate and support you.”
One interviewee suggested a short cooling off period before entering into negotiations and many felt it important that both parties remain as civil as possible. Overall, there is a resounding focus on maintaining as positive an attitude as possible.
Get advice from a professional
When it comes to legal and financial decisions, many specified the importance of getting professional help as soon as possible.
Feedback with specific guidance for those with immigration status suggested looking into getting support from international legal services.
Recommendations are also made for any domestic abuse issues to be reported to the police and social services, as this can be crucial further down the line.
Many people stressed the importance of keeping a cool head, saying:
“Think things through, don’t make rash decisions” and “try to stay calm during negotiations”.
Other responders talked about the need to remain as sensible and practical as possible, by being organised with your finances and informed about your position.
Overall the advice we gathered covers a few key areas of divorce, but each comment stressed the importance of making informed decisions. Here at Merrick we aim to be the pillar of experienced support that you can look to for honest advice.
Thank you to those who took the trouble to speak to us so honestly.
Separating couples wanting to take advantage of the changes brought by ‘no-fault’ divorce will have to wait some time yet.
Supporters say ‘no-fault’ divorce will reduce conflict. Neither party will have to point the finger blaming the other for the breakdown of the marriage. It is hoped this will allow couples to focus on any children and financial issues.
But, even so, Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland said the reforms will not come into force straight away as ‘time needs to be allowed for careful implementation’.
He added at this stage, that meant working towards an autumn 2021 implementation.
So, in the meantime, the current law remains in place.
What will the changes mean?
The new law will allow couples to divorce when either one or both parties provide a sworn statement that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. The statement will then be followed by a minimum period of six months before the divorce can be finalised.
The law will:
Remove the need to prove adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years separation (if the other party consents to a divorce) or five years separation (where there is no consent). Hence, ‘no-fault’ divorce.
Remove the possibility of one of the couple contesting the divorce.
Ensure language is in plain English, such as replacing ‘decree nisi’ with conditional order and ‘decree absolute’ with final order.
Is it worth waiting for the law to change before getting divorced?
There is no firm date for the law change to come into effect. The Lord Chancellor described autumn 2021 as an ‘indicative timetable of introduction’.
It would be unwise to bet the house on it being in place in roughly 15 months’ time. This is the biggest shake-up of our divorce laws in 50 years and there are considerable administrative changes that will need to take place.
If you do want to hold on, perhaps to avoid having to attribute blame in the hope of limiting potential conflict with a partner, then you must be prepared to wait. But there is the risk that delay will have implications for issues such as your finances or the arrangements for any children.
Coronation Street fans are witnessing one of the soap’s most disturbing storylines heading to a violent climax.
Viewers have been left horrified by character Geoff Metcalfe’s increasingly controlling behaviour of wife Yasmeen. The programme’s hard-hitting coercive control storyline peaks this week when Geoff attacks Yasmeen with a knife after starving her and forcing her to wear a prostitute’s clothes.
Unfortunately, the domestic abuse is realistic. The situations portrayed will be frighteningly familiar to many women and men who have suffered in similar toxic relationships.
Coronation Street producers worked with charities Women’s Aid and Independent Choices Greater Manchester on the best ways to portray the abuse.
Abuse doesn’t have to be physical
Explaining how the storyline would unfold, producer Iain Macleod said: “It’s common for people to think abusive behaviour has to be physical. But you can damage someone profoundly without laying a finger on them.
“Many thousands of people feel trapped in relationships with someone who claims to love them but who is actually taking them apart piece by piece, isolating them from friends and family and locking them in an invisible prison of fear and insecurity.”
Yasmeen has been increasingly under her manipulative partner’s control for more than a year.
She was forced to throw away all her clothes and spend endless hours cleaning the house. Since then, the bullying has ramped up. Viewers have seen Geoff abusing his wife, controlling what she eats, the money she spends and who she sees.
Teresa Parker, of Women’s Aid, said: “Coercive control underpins almost all abusive relationships. Geoff has established himself at the centre of Yasmeen’s life, and manipulated her in so many ways, controlling what she can and can’t do.
“She is doubting her own judgement and memories. Gradually we are seeing the long-term effects of living with an abusive partner, as she sees less of her family and friends and becomes increasingly isolated.”
Coercive control became a crime in 2015 and offenders can face up to five years in prison. Signs of coercive control include:
Isolating a partner from family and friends
Monitoring daily life and how time is spent
Controlling how money is spent
Controlling behaviour, dress and habits
Humiliating, degrading or dehumanising comments or actions
Making threats or intimidating remarks
The Coronation Street team has been keen to show some of the tools available for the abused to fight back.
Prompted by concerned family, Yasmeen asked the police for information about Geoff’s criminal past via Clare’s Law.
Under this scheme anyone can ask the police to check whether a new or existing partner has a violent past. Clare’s Law – or the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme is named after Clare Wood, who was murdered in 2009 by her ex-boyfriend who had a history of violence against women.
The coercive control storyline comes to a head as the UK remains on lockdown meaning many real-life sufferers are effectively trapped with violent or controlling partners.
According to charity Refuge, National Domestic Abuse Helpline calls and online requests for help were 49% higher than normal after three weeks of lockdown.
Staying home is essential to prevent coronavirus spreading, said MP Yvette Cooper. However, “for some people home isn’t safe” and “urgent action” was needed to protect them.
The Government had already stressed that lockdown restrictions on travel did not include those who needed to make themselves safe from domestic abuse. And it was announced this week that any woman who needs to seek refuge can do so for free on any UK train. The cost of the ticket will be covered by the relevant rail operator.
The National Domestic Abuse Helpline can be contacted free, and in confidence, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247.
Merrick has also launched a free phoneline – 0800 285 1413 – offering confidential legal advice on domestic abuse, divorce, separation, children and other relationship issues.
Our team is on hand seven days a week from 8am to 8pm to provide expertise and support. If it is difficult to call because of the lockdown you can send us a private message via social media or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The female stars of Coronation Street recorded a video highlighting the help available to domestic abuse victims during the lockdown.
The video encourages those at risk to keep a mobile phone with them at all times. Anyone needing help, but fearful an abuser may hear them calling, can dial 999 and press 55. This will let police know they need assistance.
Boris Johnson restricted people’s movements – saying there are only four reasons why people can leave their houses – with immediate effect.
1. Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible
2. One form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household
3. Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
4. Travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.
Under point three, there’s a clause which states: “…where applicable, this includes moving children under 18 between their parents’ homes.”
An estimated 1 in 4 families in the UK are headed by single parents.
Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove MP clarified the issue on children with separated parents in a BBC interview.
He said: “My heart goes out to people who are having to wrestle with all the emotional difficulties.
“The key thing here is that if you want to ensure that children can see both parents, then they can be moved from one parent to another…I wasn’t sufficiently clear earlier, it is the case that children under the age of 18 can see both parents.”