It will soon be possible for separating couples in the UK to get a divorce or civil partnership dissolution without having to blame one another for the breakdown of their relationship.
In Autumn 2021, no-fault divorce will be put into law as a part of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act, providing a long-awaited reform to divorce law in the UK.
The new law will provide couples with the opportunity to take a constructive approach to their separation, reducing unnecessary conflict and animosity. This will be done by removing the need for couples to rely on one of the ‘five facts’ to prove the irretrievable breakdown of the relationship.
Why is the current divorce law being reformed?
Under current law in England and Wales, separating couples intending to get a divorce or civil partnership dissolution can only do so if they are able to prove that their relationship has ‘irretrievably broken down’.
For this to be the case, couples have to rely on one or more of the following facts:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Adultery (not available for civil partnership dissolution)
- Desertion (where your partner has left you for at least 2 years out of the last 2.5 without your consent, without good reason and with the intention to end your relationship)
- Separation for at least 2 years with the consent of your spouse/civil partner
- Separation for at least 5 years whether your spouse/civil partner consents or not
One party will bring forward a divorce petition, blaming the other using one of the listed facts. If the other party disagrees with the divorce and the facts relied upon, they can opt to contest the divorce.
The law has come under plenty of criticism, as the ‘facts’ do not always accurately reflect the reasons behind a couple’s decision to separate. Some couples naturally drift apart or agree that they both want different things in life.
Even in cases where conflict does exist, the need to pursue a ‘blame game’ is considered to be an outdated approach to separation. There should be no need for someone to publicly air their grievances or potentially have to stay married against their will.
How will no-fault divorce work?
There are a number of important proposals included in the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act, which will introduce no-fault divorce.
These proposals include:
- Keeping the sole ground of irretrievable breakdown of the relationship
- Removing the requirement to rely on one of the five facts for irretrievable breakdown
- Updating the language associated with a divorce:
- ‘Decree Nisi’ will become a ‘Conditional Order’
- ‘Decree Absolute’ will become a ‘Final Order’
- The ‘Petitioner’ will become the ‘Applicant’
- Introducing joint applications – this allows couples to agree that the relationship has irretrievably broken down
- Removing the ability for someone to contest a divorce
- Introducing a minimum of 20 weeks from the start of divorce proceedings to when a Conditional Order can be made
- Maintaining the six-week period between the Conditional Order and Final order being made
What will no-fault divorce mean for separating couples?
There will be several significant impacts on separating couples:
Removal of the ‘blame game’
It is often the case that there is no animosity between couples when they divorce, which means that the need to resort to a blame game is unsuitable. No-fault divorce will remove the need for couples to blame one another and allow them to end their relationship amicably.
No contested divorce
It will no longer be possible for someone to contest a divorce, which means people will not have to remain in a relationship they wish to leave.
Opportunity for a joint application
If both parties agree, they will be able to make a joint application for their divorce or dissolution, which allows for a completely balanced separation that caters for both parties’ needs.
Time to make separate arrangements
With the new time scales, couples will have to wait around six months for their divorce or dissolution to finalise. This means that couples will have an important period of reflection to consider whether they do want to separate, as well as providing time to make separate arrangements for:
- Child residence
- Child maintenance
- Parenting plans
Should couples wait for no-fault divorce to start?
If you have already decided that you want to divorce, then it will usually be more beneficial to start proceedings now rather than wait for the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act to be brought into effect.
While the need to blame the divorce on one party is unattractive for many couples, it is mostly symbolic and will not usually have an effect on the outcome of the divorce.
However, there may be certain circumstances where you may prefer to wait for no-fault divorce. These include:
- Your partner has told you they will challenge a divorce application and go to court
- Your partner does not want to get a divorce and you are unable to rely on any of the five ‘facts’
- You have been separated for five years but you know that your partner will contest the divorce on the basis of 'financial hardship’
It is worth seeking legal advice about whether applying for a divorce now or waiting for no-fault divorce would be in your best interests.
Why choose Thornton Jones for advice about no fault divorce?
Our expert divorce and separation solicitors have many years of experience advising couples on a wide range of matters. We are able to offer exceptional legal expertise, clear communication and tailored support to help individual and couples in a variety of circumstances – including in relation to no-fault divorce.
We are accredited by Resolution for Family Law demonstrating our expertise in handling all family law matters, including those related to divorce and separation.
We also have strong skills in alternative dispute resolution (ADR), which means that we can help you to secure a positive outcome, while keeping conflict to a minimum. This can ultimately help you to avoid costly and stressful court proceedings wherever possible.
Contact our no-fault divorce solicitors today
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