No Fault Divorce Explained - What You Need to Know

On the 6th April 2022, the law on no fault divorce was introduced in the UK. This long-awaited reform is greatly welcomed by family lawyers and separating couples alike. But what does it mean and how does it differ from previous divorce law? We break down exactly what no fault divorce entails and how it will benefit separating couples.

What is no fault divorce?

No fault divorce allows couples to divorce without being forced to either establish blame or a period of separation to end their marriages. This change in law also applies to civil partnership breakdowns.

The new law aims to help encourage a more constructive approach to separation. For some separating couples, the ‘blame game’ feels unnecessary. The new law opens up the possibility for more harmonious separations where each party has come to an amicable decision to end their marriage.

Does the UK have no fault divorce?

No fault divorce forms part of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, which came into force in the UK on the 6th April 2022. This delayed date was brought in to allow time to implement the necessary adjustments to the courts’ online divorce process, which has been marred with difficulty since it was launched.

Speaking on the introduction of the new Bill coming into effect, Geldards’ Head of Family Law, Fiona Apthorpe said:

“This is welcome news for many of our clients. The implementation of the new system has been delayed over the past few years due to Brexit and Covid, however, we now have some measure of certainty. Most couples neither want nor need the added expense of costly arguments over the grounds for the divorce and the new law will enable them to focus instead on the arrangements for their children and finances”.

What does no fault divorce mean for separating couples

Under the previous law, to start divorce proceedings immediately one spouse had to prove adultery, unreasonable behaviour or that they have been deserted. If a spouse couldn’t prove any fault on the part of their ex, they had to wait five years to obtain a divorce if the other party would not agree to it.

The new changes require one party to state that the marriage has broken down irretrievably and prevents any contest to the divorce unless there is fraud or coercion. Under the new rules it will also be possible for couples to apply jointly for a divorce, where the decision to separate is mutual.

New terminology will do away with terms such as “Decree Nisi” and “Decree Absolute” and there must be a minimum six-month period between the lodging of an application to the divorce being made final.

The Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said the bill will make separation “less traumatic” and “should reduce conflict” and “make the legal process less painful.”

The move to change the law was partly prompted by the case of Tini Owens. In 2018, Mrs Owens failed to secure a divorce from her husband of 40 years who defended the proceedings, meaning that she could only obtain one by living apart from him for five years.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said:

“We will always uphold the institution of marriage. But when divorce cannot be avoided, the law must not create conflict between couples that so often harms the children involved. Our reforms remove the needless ‘blame game’ while ensuring there is a minimum six-month time frame to allow for reflection and the opportunity to turn back.”

What are the advantages of no fault divorce?

  1. Avoid unnecessary conflict
    In many cases, the decision to end a marriage or civil partnership is mutually agreed between both parties. Couples may have drifted apart over time or agreed that they both no longer want the same things. In these cases, having to assign blame to a particular party can cause unnecessary conflict and result in a much rockier divorce process than is needed.
  2. Reduce distress for children
    The reforms are also particularly beneficial for families with children. In what can be a very difficult time for children adjusting to a new change in their life, the new law will help them to cope with their parents’ separation. It will also help avoid causing them any unnecessary distress and negative impact on their well-being.
  3. Reduce long legal proceedings
    With conflict hopefully reduced, the new reforms should help reduce the length of the proceedings and ensure that valuable court time is not wasted. This will also allow separating couples to conclude proceedings in a much more effective and time-efficient way.
  4. Provide a more accessible system
    Under the previous law, people may have experienced some concern or fear about entering into the divorce process, particularly for those in unhappy or abusive relationships. The new reforms should help provide separating couples with a much more accessible route to ending their marriage – one that allows them to do so as easily as possible.

However, the new reforms have not come without some criticism. Arguments against the new law suggest that it provides the opportunity for couples to end their marriage without a particular party being held accountable for unacceptable behaviour, such as adultery or abusive behaviour. It’s also been argued that the weight and significance of marriage will diminish as people will enter into marriage with less thought to consequences, knowing that divorcing has become an easier process.

As the new process is easier, there is also concern that separating couples will not seek legal advice. A divorce ends a marriage, but it does not address existing financial claims or prevent future ones.

Ultimately, the new reforms seek to help reduce distress for all parties involved, provide time for reflection and the opportunity to move forward amicably or to find common ground.

If you’re looking to seek legal advice around divorce or the Dissolution and Separation Bill, our specialist family divorce lawyers are here to help you. Please contact a member of our Family Law team below for more information.

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