It was recently confirmed that the UK’s no-fault divorce legislation (the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill) won’t come into force until April 2022. 

The long-awaited changes are set to be the biggest shake-up of divorce laws in half a century, with the aim of reducing the impact that allegations of blame can have on a couple and any children that may be involved in the process. 

While the institution of marriage continues to remain significant for many people, for Asian communities, it is particularly sacred. 

The topic of divorce can therefore bring with it a significant amount of shame and resentment. For example, Islam discourages divorce but, unlike some religions, does make provision for it by either party. 

Sharia Law provides general guidelines for the process of divorce, with emphasis on both parties upholding the values of justice and kindness in formalising the end to their marriage. In the UK, however, the court does not always recognise a religious ceremony as a legally valid marriage.  

If parties have married abroad but wish to divorce in the UK, it is important to check that a legally valid marriage ceremony took place according to the laws of that country. This can be a rather complicated area and so it is always advisable to seek legal advice before starting any divorce proceedings, particularly if you are unsure which country should deal with the divorce.  

In some Asian marriages, desire to separate may stem from cultural differences, for example. However, under current laws, this does not count as one of the five grounds for divorce and would be rejected by the court.

As a result, what may begin as an amicable separation can quickly spiral out of control once there is a need to allege unreasonable behaviour. Not only this, but proceedings can also become increasingly expensive. 

In Asian culture, there is already a high level of blame made against one party, usually the person applying for the divorce. In our experience this can make what is already a distressing situation more difficult for the parties.  

The expected new law will allow one spouse - or the couple jointly - to make a statement of irretrievable breakdown.

This means that the element of blame will be removed, at least legally. It will also reduce the ability for one spouse to contest a divorce if the other wants one – which, in some cases, has allowed domestic abusers to exercise further coercive control over their victim. 

Crucially, it will also introduce a 20-week period between the initial petition stage and when the court grants the provisional decree of divorce (the ‘decree nisi’). This will provide a meaningful period of reflection and the chance to turn back or, where divorce is inevitable, it will allow couples the opportunity to cooperate and plan for their futures, whether together or apart. 

For people pursuing a divorce, it is important to remember that knowledge is power; by seeking the support of an expert, the process will be made smoother. Even in the current situation, it doesn’t have to be messy or complicated. However, it is important to remember that finances are treated separately and doing the groundwork as a couple can allow the focus to remain on ensuring the best future for all involved. 

Divorce is never an easy subject, and the effects are almost always felt across families and the wider community. However, the expected new legislation may provide a breath of fresh air for many Asian couples in particular who wish to separate amicably. Until then, it is more important than ever for parties to fully understand the current laws surrounding divorce, how the process is expected to change, and what the new rules might mean for them. 

By Monica Ghai, family law specialist at law firm, Shakespeare Martineau. Monica is also a member of Resolution and the Law Society’s Advanced Family Law Panel.