Divorcing couples in England and Wales will be able to get a ‘no fault’ divorce from 6 April 2022, making the process of getting a divorce simpler and reducing the potential for unnecessary conflict.
No fault divorce is being introduced under the terms of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, which comes into force in April this year. While the Act was originally due to take effect from autumn 2021, this was delayed.
The introduction of no fault divorce should be good news for couples seeking to end their marriage, removing the need for one party to “take the blame” for the failure of the marriage or, alternatively, for the parties to live separately for two years before divorcing, as is usually required under the current rules.
What is no fault divorce?
No fault divorce means that someone who wishes to get divorced will simply be able to do so on the grounds that they feel their marriage has irretrievably broken down. They will not need to provide a reason for why they feel this is the case (which is required under the existing divorce laws in England and Wales).
The term ‘no fault’ refers to the fact that, under the current rules, the person wishing to initiate divorce proceedings will usually need to blame their spouse for the divorce, i.e. say that it is their fault. The new rules remove the need to say that one spouse was at fault for the divorce, hence ‘no fault’ divorce.
Why is no fault divorce being introduced?
The current divorce laws in the UK have long been seen as outdated, having not been significantly updated for over 50 years. One of the biggest issues many people have is that any couple who wishes to get a divorce or civil partnership dissolution must be able to prove that their relationship has irretrievably broken down.
To do this, couples need to rely on one or more reasons – even if they do not necessarily apply to the context of their separation. These are:
- Adultery (unavailable for civil partnership dissolution)
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Desertion for at least 2 of the previous 2.5 years
- Separation for at least 2 years with consent
- Separation for at least 5 years without consent
The first three reasons all mean that one spouse effectively has to take the blame for the marriage’s failure (because they have committed adultery, behaved unreasonably or deserted their spouse). The only way to avoid this is by waiting 2 or 5 years to divorce on the grounds of separation with or without the other spouse’s consent.
No fault divorce removes the need to rely on these reasons, so one of the spouses will not need to accept blame in order to get a quick divorce. This should remove a lot of potential for conflict and the need for careful negotiation between the divorcing spouses over who should accept the fault and what they are willing to have on record.
What other changes are being introduced to divorce law in England and Wales?
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 introduces a number of other changes, including:
- Introducing joint applications for divorce
- Removing the option to contest a divorce
- Modernising the language around the divorce process (e.g. the ‘decree nisi’ becomes the ‘conditional order’ and the ‘decree absolute’ becomes the ‘final order’)
- Introducing a minimum period of 20 weeks from the initial proceedings until a conditional order of divorce has been granted to give couples time to reflect on whether their marriage is truly over
Is it worth waiting until April for a no fault divorce?
With the introduction of the new rules only months away, it may be tempting to think that it will be easier to just wait and get a no fault divorce. However, in most cases, it is still possible to get divorced without unnecessary conflict if you take the right approach.
For couples who have agreed to divorce and do not wish to wait 2 years, it is normally possible to make an application using the reason of ‘unreasonable behaviour’. This covers a wide range of behaviour, including many things that will not necessarily be contentious. Couples are normally, therefore, able to agree on behaviour to include in an application that will be accepted by a court but does not denigrate the “at fault” spouse’s character.
Where it may be worth waiting for the new rules to come into effect is if you wish to divorce your spouse and believe they may contest the divorce or the reasons for it. It may also be worth considering if you feel you will not be able to work constructively with your spouse to agree on what to include in the divorce petition.
Whatever your situation, we strongly recommend seeking expert legal advice before making a decision.
Speak to our family law solicitors about no fault divorce
If you need any advice regarding no fault divorce or any other family law matter, our expert family law solicitors in West Drayton and St Albans are on hand to lend their expertise.