The government has announced the implementation of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act (the Act), which was due to come into force in October, will be delayed by six months to 6 April 2022 due to technical issues.
Chris Philp, parliamentary under secretary of state at the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, yesterday said the “indicative” autumn timetable the government had been working towards had been “ambitious”.
He described the delay as “unfortunate” but said it was “essential" government "take the time to get this right”.
Following changes to the family procedure rules and supporting practice directions, amendments are also required to family court forms, the online digital divorce service and information on gov.uk.
Philp reported officials had begun to make the necessary amendments to court forms and amend the new online digital divorce service, while procedural rules are being finalised.
However, following the commencement of design work, Philp said it became clear the procedural amendments and testing of the new system would not conclude before the end of the year.
The delay will no doubt frustrate separated couples. It has also been met with widespread disappointment across the profession.
Lisa Pepper, family law partner at Osbornes, said: “This delay is a blow to couples who are seeking to divorce in the most amicable way, with the least impact on their children.
“Couples who perhaps have been ‘waiting it out’ may feel that they have no option now but to begin the process, citing unreasonable behaviour or adultery. This immediately introduces a contentious element into their divorce, which is sad for them and their families.”
Her colleague and partner, Joanne Wescott, commented: “While [the delay] is hugely disappointing… divorcing couples seeking a no fault divorce will now at least have a date to plan towards”.
She added: “I am sure that all family lawyers and those seeking a divorce will appreciate the time it takes to resolve such [IT] issues, and that the courts must be given the necessary time to ensure a smooth process when the law is brought in.”
Graham Coy, a family partner in Wilsons Solicitors, expressed frustration at the delays: "… the fact that the introduction of no-fault divorce is six months later than originally projected is disappointing.
“When the bill received royal assent last year, the government committed to changes taking effect in 2021 following an implementation period – this delay presents a clear contradiction.
“This legislature has been a long time coming, and it is imperative that the option exists for couples to separate amicably as soon as possible, mitigating the emotional distress on both partners and any shared children.
"The fact that the Government is suggesting that the delay is caused by IT-related issues is just unacceptable and could be a recipe for further delay."