No-Fault Divorce -
Here's what you need to know

Published: 5th April 2022
Area: Family

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No-fault divorce becomes legislation on Wednesday 6 April 2022

Despite the long awaited Act for “no-fault” divorce being passed in June 2020, it is finally becoming legislation on Wednesday 6 April 2022. It has taken years of discussion to reach this point, providing significant changes to the way couples apply for a legal separation.

This landmark legislation, formally called the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will allow married couples to divorce without assigning blame. Up until this point, couples had to have been separated for at least two years, or have to blame the other spouse for the breakdown of the marriage, which increases the animosity.

England and Wales have been a step behind many other countries when it comes to divorce with many opting for a more progressive approach. At present, one spouse must issue divorce proceedings against the other, potentially creating unnecessary animosity which can often lead to the divorce being contested by the other spouse.

Under the no-fault divorce system, couples will also be able to apply for divorce jointly which will hopefully lessen the chance of blame creeping into the equation. It will not be possible to contest a divorce, putting an end to traumatic situations such as the Owens v Owens case.

Cases such as Owens v Owens are rare. Removing the option to contest a divorce is a vital step forward, stopping people from being trapped in a marriage that they no longer want to be part of.

A statutory timeframe has been included in the new legislation, meaning that a divorce cannot be finalised in less than 20 weeks. Under current law, it is possible to conclude a divorce in a shorter time frame than this, however, it's rare for this to happen in less than four months.

It is important to remember though that complexities can arise that can add significant time to the process, such as financial claims that require negotiation, or concerns around child custody.

What terminology has changed as part of no-fault divorce?

Divorce terminology is also changing too, bringing the process into the 21st century. Making each element of divorce as clear as possible will reduce confusion and help people to understand the process they’re embarking on a little easier.

Previous terminology New terminology Description
Petition Application
Petitioner Applicant
Decree Nisi Conditional Order The order by a court of law stating the date on which the marriage will end
Decree Absolute Final Order The legal document that ends a marriage
(Judicial) Separation Decree (Judicial) Separation Order An order which confirms the parties to a marriage or civil partnership are separated
Decree of Nullity Nullity of marriage order A declaration of the court that the marriage is null and void

How will no-fault divorce work?

The announcement means that couples will no longer have to agree to be separated for two years, or have proof of their partner being at fault, in order to file for divorce. Only one person needs to desire the divorce, and their spouse will not be able to refuse the application.

Being able to apply for a no-fault divorce will spare couples the emotional stress and strain of finding blame for an unreasonable behaviour petition or when they can’t, or don’t want to, wait two years to divorce on the grounds of separation or five years if they do not have the consent of the other spouse.

It should be noted that under the new law, the statutory timeframe means that a divorce cannot be concluded in less than 26 weeks. Although it is possible for this to be shorter under the current law, it is still unusual for it to be less than four months, not including the time taken to resolve financial claims. As a result, the overall timeframe of the new system will be largely in line with the existing one. Plus, a fixed timeframe allows parties to reflect on whether the decision to end the marriage is the right one.

What caused the delay?

Following the tireless campaigning of family lawyers, the government has spent a significant amount of time over the past few years trying to make the divorce process simpler.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act receiving Royal Assent was a real breakthrough moment, with many hoping no-fault divorce would come into play by early 2021 at the latest. However, following delays, the act has now come into force on 6 April 2022. This was to allow time to become familiar with the new process, and for any necessary, IT changes to be made to HMCTS’s online divorce systems so that new process works as intended and is fit for purpose.

No-fault divorces will take a huge amount of anxiety away from the process, benefitting a significant number of people.

How we guide you through the divorce process

The introduction of no-fault divorce is one of the most significant changes in family law in the last 50 years. Ending a marriage is a monumental decision, and that won’t change. It’s important to remember that the actions you take in the early stages can set the tone for everything that follows.

If you’re about to start divorce proceedings, or currently going through the separation process, then speak to one of our divorce lawyers. We’re here to guide you through the maze of emotions and legal responsibilities, every step of the way.

You can also read our step by step guide on how to get a divorce. Find out more here >>.

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