To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what progress he has made on implementing the provisions of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020; and if he will make a statement.
7 June 2021
The Act provides for the biggest reform of divorce law in fifty years and will reduce conflict between couples legally ending a marriage or civil partnership. At Commons Third Reading of the Bill the Lord Chancellor explained the need to allow time for careful implementation and that, at that early stage, the Government was working towards an indicative timetable of autumn 2021. This was an ambitious timetable.
Following Royal Assent on 25 June 2020, the Ministry of Justice has worked closely with the Family Procedure Rule Committee to identify the significant changes needed to Family Procedure Rules and supporting practice directions, and to devise some key new procedures. Those procedural changes are critical as they will shape amendments to family court forms, the online digital divorce service, and information on gov.uk. The Family Procedure Rule Committee has now consulted on draft rule amendments and is working to finalise these rules post consultation.
In parallel, officials have begun work to identify, design and build the necessary amendments to court forms and, importantly, amend the new online digital divorce service while the procedural rules themselves are being finalised. This work includes consideration of commitments made during the passage of the Act through parliament to improve the information and signposting for couples when they navigate the legal process of divorce, dissolution or separation.
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.
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. The new divorce process will work to reduce conflict, which is especially damaging for children, and will reflect work the Government are undertaking through the Reducing Parental Conflict programme. That programme will build the evidence on what works to reduce harmful levels of parental conflict below the threshold of domestic abuse, working with local areas to help them embed support in their local services for families. We will also use this opportunity to strengthen signposting to family mediation as a means to resolve arrangements for children and the division of assets on divorce.