New No Fault Divorce Law Goes Live

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From the 6 April 2022 it will no longer be necessary for one party to blame the other for the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage or civil partnership with the long awaited “no fault divorce” law finally coming into force.  This is good news.  For many solicitors, it has been apparent that the previous divorce law and procedure has failed to keep up with the changing face of family law which is becoming more and more geared to promote amicable resolution between separating couples.

Resolution, which is a community of family lawyers around England and Wales who adopt a constructive approach in relation to family law, have lobbied for some 30 years to end blame in divorce.  In June 2020 the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill received Royal Assent and proceedings under The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 are able to be applied for from 6 April 2022.

Under the existing act, The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 – a statute which is nearly 50 years old – the petitioning party would have to cite one of five facts to prove the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.  The facts included the other party’s adultery or unreasonable behaviour as a reason for the divorce.  Alternatively, the couples had to have been separated for over two years (including by way of desertion) or five years before applying for a divorce.  Similar facts were used in civil partnership except for adultery.   Unfortunately, allegations of adultery or bad behaviour at the outset of divorce proceedings would often have the effect of pitching a husband and wife against each other unnecessarily.  This would then disrupt the process of negotiating and agreeing the terms of the divorce settlement.

What is the new no fault divorce law?

It means that one, and for the first time both, parties can apply for a divorce on the basis that the marriage or civil partnership has broken down irretrievably.  However, a reason for the irretrievable breakdown (one of the previous five facts) does not have to be given.  Proceedings can no longer be defended (they can only be disputed but only on the grounds of jurisdiction, invalidity or existing proceedings).

How long does it take to get a no fault divorce?

There is a mandatory period of 20 weeks for meaningful reflection between the issue of the divorce proceedings and the application for the Conditional Order (formerly called the Decree Nisi).  There is then a six week period between the Conditional Order being made and applying for the Final Order.  Joint applications are encouraged but single applications can be made.  The terminology has also been changed to make it more accessible to those going through a divorce.

As with most big changes, no fault divorce will likely have teething problems with the new Act, new digital service, and new forms.  The introduction of no fault divorce law should be viewed as a positive step in encouraging separating couples to avoid conflict and to resolve financial and children issues as amicably and as cost effectively as possible.

Here to Help

If you need advice on any family matter, please get in touch with Tracey Dargan, Partner and Head of Family and Divorce.

Please note the contents of this article are given for information only and must not be relied upon. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances.