No-fault divorce comes into force in England and Wales

6 Apr 2022

What is no-fault divorce?

No-fault divorce allows couples to end their marriage without assigning blame on either side. Following a major reform to divorce law, no-fault divorce is now the only way to legally dissolve a marriage or civil partnership.

 

What is No-Fault Divorce

When did no-fault divorce become law?

No-fault divorce came into force in England and Wales on 6 April 2022. It follows the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act, which was passed in June 2020.

Why was no-fault divorce introduced?

The new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act came after years of deliberation. Before this landmark Act, one spouse was forced to make accusations about the other’s conduct, such as adultery, desertion and ‘unreasonable behaviour’, or face years of separation, before a divorce could be granted.

This was regardless of whether a couple had made a mutual decision to separate.

Going through a divorce is stressful enough, but the ‘blame game’ only made couples more hostile towards one another. In many circumstances, this approach to divorce made it difficult to agree on arrangements for the children or the finances of the marriage.

Under the old divorce laws, it was also possible to get trapped in a marriage if none of the acceptable reasons for divorce applied.

No-fault divorce was introduced to:

  • reduce the acrimony and conflict that often arises during the divorce process
  • encourage better outcomes for both partners, and for the children of the marriage
  • allow divorces to take place in a ‘loveless marriage’
  • make the divorce process simpler

I am in a civil partnership. Does no-fault divorce apply to me?

Yes. The rules for obtaining a dissolution to a civil partnership will be the same as those for a divorce.

How does no-fault divorce work?

The changes to the law mean that one or both partners can now apply for a divorce by stating their marriage or civil partnership has broken down irretrievably. If you like, you can make the application jointly. There’s no need to provide any additional evidence.

Under the new divorce rules, once you have applied for a divorce, there’s an obligatory 20-week ‘cooling-off period’. After this time, if you still want to go ahead, you apply to the court for a Conditional Order – the new name for a Decree Nisi. Six weeks later, the court will issue a Final Order (previously a Decree Absolute).

Has the language around divorce now changed?

Yes. Old terms like “divorce petition” have been updated to reflect the fact that no blame is now attached in the divorce process. So, instead of a divorce petition, there is now a divorce application, and instead of a petitioner, there is an applicant. And as we saw above, Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute have been replaced with Conditional Order and Final Order.

Can my spouse still contest the divorce?

The old system of divorce was centred around blame, where the person being accused of ‘unreasonable behaviour’, ‘adultery’ or ‘desertion’ could ‘contest’ the claims being made.

Under the new rules, there are only very limited ways to contest a divorce such as jurisdictional grounds or where the validity of the marriage is in question, there is fraud or a procedural compliance issue. Importantly, this stops one partner from vindictively locking their spouse into an unhappy marriage – a tactic that has been used by domestic abusers. The reforms will put an end to this behaviour.

Will no-fault divorce be cheaper?

While the costs of divorce will remain the same (a court fee of £593 for the court application, plus solicitor’s fees), no-fault divorce is likely to be a shorter and more amicable process for many people. That could mean that you end up paying less in legal costs, as you come to an agreement more quickly. You will need to decide between you how the cost of the court fee is divided up.

How long does a no-fault divorce take?

In theory, the whole divorce process could take as little as 26 weeks (6 months). That’s taking into account the 20-week waiting period before a Conditional Order is granted, and the additional 6 weeks before the Final Order is issued. In practice, your divorce is may take a bit longer than this, if there are financial and children’s issues to also resolve but it doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out process.

Before the Divorce, Dissolution, and Separation Act came into force, a couple would have to be separated for 2 years (with the consent of the other spouse) or 5 years (without consent) before a no-fault divorce could be granted.

What if I am already in the middle of a divorce?

If you and your spouse have already started divorce proceedings, your divorce will continue according to the old system.

Do I still need a solicitor for a no-fault divorce?

Although there will no longer be any need to prove that one party is to blame or to contest the divorce petition, it is still advisable to have your own legal representation in a divorce. This can help to ensure that the divorce proceeds smoothly and that your interests are represented. Your solicitor can also help you to decide on how to divide up the assets of the marriage, and what childcare arrangements to put in place.

Contact our specialist divorce solicitors

At Hepburn Delaney, our experienced divorce solicitors have been supporting clients through the divorce process for many years. For advice on any aspect of family law, including no-fault divorce, contact our family law solicitors on 01442 218090 or email info@hepburndelaney.co.uk.

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