The anniversary of no-fault divorce
06 April 2023
On 6th April 2022, the landmark reform known as the ‘no-fault divorce’ was introduced, aimed at reducing conflict between separating couples and as part of wider action to improve the family justice system.
What happened before this?
Previously, in order to apply for a divorce, one spouse had to criticise the other’s conduct and blame the breakdown of their marriage on the other’s ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or ‘adultery’. If these were not applicable, or married couples simply wanted to avoid acrimony, they had to be separated for two years or more in order to make an application for divorce. As a financial order cannot be made until divorce proceedings are underway, separating couples were often left with a choice of either increasing animosity between them via a fault-based petition or delaying final legally-binding decisions in relation to their finances.
What happens now?
Since the change, with the introduction of the no-fault divorce, one spouse or a couple (jointly) can apply for divorce without the need to place blame in relation to the breakdown of their marriage. The key changes are:
- The introduction of simplified language to make the process easier to understand. For example: ‘decree nisi’, ‘decree absolute’ and ‘petitioner’ are now referred to as ‘conditional order’, ‘final order’ and ‘applicant’.
- Instead of having to evidence conduct such as ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or ‘adultery’, a spouse can now simply state that ‘the marriage has irretrievably broken down’ and ‘cannot be saved’. There is also an option for couples to make this a joint statement, if they wish.
- The other spouse can no longer dispute the decision to apply for a divorce. The statement acknowledging that the marriage has irretrievably broken down is now considered to be conclusive evidence.
- The introduction of a new minimum-20-week ‘cooling off’ period, from the start of proceedings to the date you can apply for a conditional order. This period is in place to try to give couples a greater opportunity to agree future arrangements (such as children and/or finances) where reconciling is not possible.
The impact of these changes
In our experience, no-fault divorce has made a significant positive impact on separating couples. Thanks to no-fault divorce, they are better able to engage in sensible discussions about the practical aspects of their separation, such as child arrangements and settling their finances, without the distraction of apportioning blame - or the tension this can create. No-fault divorce also allows couples to demonstrate that the decision to end the marriage is mutual, by filing a joint application. Reduced conflict around separation and divorce leads to better outcomes for families and allows children to thrive.
Read more on the no-fault divorce: New no-fault divorce law allows couples to separate more amicably and No-fault divorce: your questions answered.
If you are looking to find the best way forward for your divorce or separation, contact one of our experienced family law solicitors.