The Family team at Michelmores has led what is understood to be the first case in the country where an application has been made to speed up the divorce process, since the introduction of no-fault divorce in England and Wales.
The launch of the new no-fault divorce system in April 2022 saw the introduction of a new “cooling off period”, a mandatory 20-week period from the date of the divorce application to the date Conditional order (the mid-way stage of the process) can be applied for.
The reason for the new holding period between divorce applications and pronouncement of Conditional Order is both personal and practical. The period enables time for reflection as well as time for financial matters to be resolved.
Despite the recent changes to divorce law, the court retains the power to shorten the mandatory timeframes within divorce proceedings (section 1(8) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973). Therefore, it is possible to expedite this 20-week waiting period. This operates similarly to the power that the court had under historical legislation to reduce the six-week time period between what the stages then known as Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute (the new Conditional Order and Final Order).
However, much as before, this will only occur in exceptional circumstances. Historically, most successful applications for shortening divorce proceedings have revolved around the impending death of a party or person connected with the proceedings.
Our client sadly had life-limiting health issues, and did not have capacity to litigate. There were a multitude of reasons why a swift divorce was beneficial and necessary. Our client (through attorneys) needed certainty as to the assets and income available to meet challenging 24-hour care needs, and access and autonomy over them.
Upon issue of the urgent petition, the respondent completed the acknowledgement and notice was sent via the online portal in the usual way. Ordinarily at this stage, under the new law, parties must wait for the expiry of 20 weeks since the date the original divorce application was issued, before applying for Conditional Order.
At that point, an application to court was made to abridge the mandatory 20 week waiting period. The court approved the application and pronounced Conditional Order early, with permission to apply to expedite the Final Order if required.
The divorce application was issued at the start of December 2022, the certificate of entitlement granted January 2023 and the Conditional Order pronounced less than a month later, in February 2023. A consent order was approved swiftly, meaning a Final Order in the divorce could be applied for quickly.
Sarah Green, Senior Associate and solicitor instructed in this case commented:
“This is believed to be the first example within the new “no-fault” divorce process of the court expediting the new 20-week period between a divorce application being issued and entitlement to a Conditional Order being granted.
However, there is no intention for this to be freely applied in all cases. There is still no such thing as a “quickie” divorce, a phrase often used by the media in relation to high profile separating couples, and couples won’t be able to exploit this loophole to speed up the process in a standard divorce. There are still only very limited circumstances where a court will consider it appropriate to shorten the mandatory timeframes”.
For more information, please contact Sarah Green.
With thanks to Alysia Dunton, Placement Student, Family team