What is ‘no-fault divorce’?
We are now less than six weeks away from the most fundamental changes to divorce law in this country for almost half a century. On 6 April 2022, the ‘Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020’ will come into force, sweeping away the current process for divorce and the dissolution of civil partnerships and introducing wholesale change in how couples can legally end their marriage or civil partnership.
What are the main changes and how will they make the situation better?
- Divorce can be applied for without the need to set out any reasons for why the marriage has broken down
Currently in order to obtain a divorce, unless the parties have been separated for a period of two years or more, one spouse must provide a reason for the breakdown of the marriage by formally ‘blaming’ the other. This can often lead to increased tension and animosity. This in turn can make it very difficult for couples to move away from focusing on the difficulties in their relationship and look practically at how best they can move forward. The new divorce law changes are designed to eliminate the need for this ‘blame game’ by introducing the ability for a couple to divorce based on a statement by one or both of them that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.
- Divorce can be applied for jointly by a couple
Under the new law a couple can jointly apply for their divorce, rather than one person needing to prepare all the necessary paperwork this becomes a shared responsibility. It also means that those who previously may have felt sidelined will be empowered to take an active role in the process of obtaining their divorce.
- Divorce can only be challenged if the person seeking it does not have the right to a divorce in England and Wales
Currently, if a spouse does not agree with the allegations made against them in a divorce petition they can contest these by defending the divorce. Whilst rare, this can be a hugely costly process financially but more importantly emotionally, potentially leaving a spouse trapped in their marriage. The new rules remove the ability for an individual to defend a divorce. The only reason a divorce can be challenged is if England and Wales is not the appropriate place for the divorce to take place, or if the couple have been married for less than a year and are, therefore, not entitled to divorce yet.
- There will be a minimum time frame for a divorce to become final
To ensure that couples have time to reflect on their decision to divorce there will be a minimum 20 week time frame before an application for divorce can be made final. Whilst this may seem like a long time, currently it is taking couples 26-39 weeks on average to obtain their final decrees of divorce.
- The outdated legal jargon currently used in divorce will be removed
The language used by the Court will also be updated. The person/people who start the divorce will be called the ‘applicant/applicants’ rather than the ‘petitioner’. The two stage process for divorce will stay but they will no longer be called ‘Decree Nisi’ and ‘Decree Absolute’, instead they will be called the ‘Conditional Order’ and ‘Final Order’.
How do I start a no-fault divorce?
The simplest way to start a no-fault divorce is to apply online through the Court’s online portal. This is currently being updated to reflect the new changes in the law and will be relaunched on 6 April 2022.
What happens if I have already started a divorce?
If you have already started divorce proceedings they will continue to be dealt with by the Court under the current process. There is no need to re-start proceedings or change to no-fault divorce once this is available in April 2022.
If you have any questions about no-fault divorce and how it will impact your situation then please contact a member of our specialist family and matrimonial team who will be happy to assist you.