Divorce is a process that provides a married couple with a legal separation, terminating their marriage. The process of divorce in England & Wales is relatively straight-forward. 

In England and Wales, new divorce legislation (The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020)("DDSA") came into effect on 6th April 2022, which amended the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and adopted a new divorce processes and procedure. The law also changed, and now divorces can only be disputed in certain limited circumstances.

The new law removes the requirement to provide evidence of conduct or a period of separation as "facts" to be relied upon in support of a divorce, and replaces it with a simple requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown of marriage, or civil partnership, or to obtain a judicial separation. In effect, the statement of irretrievable breakdown is a "self certification" and undergoes no judicial scrutiny.

It is now no longer possible to defend the decision to divorce, other than in limited circumstances, and is now referred to as a "disputed" divorce. The ability to dispute a divorce will only be on jurisdictional grounds, the validity of the marriage, or in the event of fraud or procedural non-compliance. Thus, in the absence of these issues, you can no longer "contest" a divorce if your spouse wishes terminate the marriage.

The DDSA, for the first time, also allows for joint applications for divorce, judicial separation, or dissolution of a civil partnership to be made, meaning that couples can now apply to divorce each other. You will both be called Applicants, with "Applicant 1" taking the lead, and being responsible for issuing the application to divorce etc.

The DDSA introduced a minimum overall time frame of 6 months (26 weeks) between issuing a divorce application and the making of a final order for divorce. In practice, it will take longer than this however. 

There is a minimum period between the divorce application being issued and you being able to apply for the first of two orders, namely a conditional order (previously a decree nisi) of 20 weeks. There is then a further minimum period of 6 weeks after conditional order is made before one can apply to finalise the divorce, asking for a final divorce order. This is aimed at giving the parties time to reflect upon their decision to divorce, and where a divorce is inevitable, to provide greater opportunity for couples to agree practical arrangements for their futures.

The legal terminology of divorce also changed. A "Petition", is now an "Application", "Petitioner" is now an "Applicant", "Decree Nisi" is a "conditional order" of divorce, and "Decree Absolute" becomes a "Final Order" of divorce.

Beyond the making of the statement of "Irretrievable Breakdown" on the application for a divorce, no further evidence is needed to support that statement. 

All petitions issued before 6th April 2022 will continue under the "old law", with all applications issued thereafter under the new.

Varying rules apply which determine whether an Application can be issued online or "on paper", with solicitors being mandated to issue online other than in limited circumstances.

There are new rules as to how a divorce application should be served upon the other party, with the general rule being that the Court will send the Application to the "Respondent". The Applicant can ask to be responsible for service of the application, but involves having to make a further and separate application.

The Application can be issued by e-mail, but also requires that a letter is sent to the Respondent advising that service has taken place by e-mail. If the Applicant does not have the Respondents address, then a special application needs to be issued so as to utilise only the Respondents e-mail address.