Some key terms in Family Law have changed – what do they mean? - Boodle Hatfield

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06 Apr 2022

Some key terms in Family Law have changed – what do they mean?

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Katie Male View profile
3 min read

Today marks the end of the 'divorce blame game' where 'no fault divorce' legislation comes into effect, removing the requirement for parties to place blame on one another to start divorce proceedings.

With this new legislation comes an update to the existing terminology and the exclusion of some old concepts. For divorces started from today (6 April 2022), terms marked with one asterisk (*) below will no longer be relevant and terms marked with two asterisks (**) below will be replaced with a different term as shown.

* Adultery – In the context of divorce proceedings in England and Wales, adultery is defined as one spouse having had sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex (it cannot be a member of the same sex) with the consequence that the other spouse finds it intolerable to live with them. Prior to 6 April 2022, this was a fact upon which a petitioner (now, applicant) could rely in their divorce petition (now, application) to satisfy the Court that their marriage had irretrievably broken down and that they were entitled to a divorce. From 6 April 2022, it will no longer be necessary, or possible, to cite a spouse’s adultery in a divorce petition/application and instead it will be sufficient simply for one or both spouses to make a statement that they believe the marriage has broken down irretrievably (without having to specify a reason for this).

* Unreasonable behaviour – One of five possible facts to evidence the single ground for the divorce (the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage). An ‘unreasonable behaviour divorce petition’ required the petitioner to cite examples of unreasonable behaviour (shouting, controlling behaviour, lack of interest, a breakdown of communication) by the respondent and state that they therefore find it intolerable to live with him/her. From 6 April 2022, it will no longer be necessary, or possible, to cite a spouse’s unreasonable behaviour in a divorce petition/application and instead it will be sufficient simply for one or both spouses to make a statement that they believe the marriage has broken down irretrievably (without having to specify a reason for this).

** Decree Absolute – The second and final decree of divorce which dissolves the marriage and enables either party to remarry. From 6 April 2022, the Decree Absolute will be known instead as the Final Order.

** Decree Nisi – The first decree of divorce which has the effect of granting the Court power to make financial orders. This decree does not dissolve the marriage. From 6 April 2022, the Decree Nisi will be known instead as the Conditional Order.

** Petition – The form of document which is filed at Court by one party in order to start divorce proceedings. This sets out the details of the parties and the marriage as well as containing the basis on which the divorce is being sought. From 6 April 2022, the petition will be known instead as the application and it can now be filed either by one party or by both together. There will no longer be any need - or opportunity - to identify a reason for the breakdown of the marriage. Instead, it will be sufficient simply for one or both spouses to make a statement that they believe the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

Lawyers can sometimes forget that terms they have become familiar with can sound like another language to their clients. We have compiled a handy family law glossary with the above terms and many of the other common terms that crop up during the course of proceedings relating to divorce and the financial arrangements following marital breakdown to provide a useful reference for those involved in such cases. A copy of the guide can be found here.

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