Separating couples are now able to get a divorce, civil partnership dissolution or legal separation without having to blame each other for the breakdown of their relationship.
As of 6 April 2022, the new law on no-fault divorce in the UK, which was originally announced in February 2019, has brought long-awaited reforms to an area of law that had not previously changed since 1973.
Under the new law, separating couples are no longer required to rely on one of the ‘five facts’ to prove the ground for divorce – the irretrievable breakdown of the relationship. Instead, the new law encourages a more constructive approach to separation, promoting reconciliation and reflection where possible but ultimately trusting the judgment of the couple involved.
What is a no fault divorce?
A no fault, or no blame divorce is a much more straightforward and amicable approach to separation. As per the no fault divorce process, couples will be able to file for divorce or civil partner dissolution without having to place the blame on their former partner to prove the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
No fault divorce and the other relevant chances included in the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation act 2020 only affect the proceedings related to the process of legally ending the marriage or civil partnership. They do not relate to the separation of finances or arrangements for children.
How will no-fault divorce work?
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which introduced no-fault divorce, has put the following no fault divorce laws in place:
- Kept the sole ground of irretrievable breakdown of the relationship
- Removed the requirement to establish one or more facts to prove irretrievable breakdown
- Updated the divorce language, for example:
- ‘Decree Nisi’ has become a ‘Conditional Order’
- ‘Decree Absolute’ has become a ‘Final Order’
- ‘Petitioner’ (the person submitting the application) has become the ‘applicant’
- Introduced joint applications where the couple both agree that the relationship has irretrievably broken down (applicants are still able to submit a sole application if their partner does not agree)
- Removed the ability to contest a divorce, dissolution or separation
- Introduced a new minimum period of 20 weeks from the start of proceedings to when the ‘Conditional Order’ can be made
- Kept the 6 week period between the Conditional Order and when the Final Order can be made
What no-fault divorce means for separating couples
The new no fault divorce laws that have been introduced will have a number of consequences for separating couples, including:
- No more blame
- If both parties agree, they can make a joint application for divorce or dissolution, allowing them to have a completely amicable separation
- No one will need to worry about their partner contesting the divorce or dissolution and forcing them to go to court, saving considerable time, cost and stress
- With the new time scales, most couples will have to wait about 6 months for their divorce or dissolution to finalise. This time is intended to be a period of reflection for both parties to consider whether they truly want to separate
- During this time, couples still need to make separate arrangements to:
- Divide their finances
- Agree to maintenance payments (if necessary)
- Sort out child residence/contact
- Agree on an ongoing parenting plan
How do I apply for a no fault divorce?
No fault divorce allows for someone to make a sole divorce application, which is then served to their former partner, or a joint application which a couple submits together.
An application for a no fault divorce can be made online. All that is required are the names and addresses of both partners and the original (or a certified copy) of the marriage certificate.
If a sole application is made, the court will send a copy of the divorce application (under previous laws, this was known as a divorce petition) to the other spouse. They are then required to confirm receipt of the application and send an ‘acknowledgement of service’ form back to the court within 14 days.
How long does a no fault divorce take?
The timescales related to the no fault divorce process are relatively straightforward. It is now estimated that no fault divorce proceedings take a minimum of 26 weeks to finalise.
This is because there are now two separate minimum waiting periods. There is a 20 week waiting period for the Conditional Order (this was formerly known as the Decree Nisi) to be issued and a further 6 week waiting period for the Final Order (this was formerly known as the Decree Absolute).
Of course, the time it takes to finalise a divorce will also depend on other factors, including the division of finances and arrangements for children.
Can a no fault divorce be contested?
No, a no fault divorce cannot be contested, except in extremely limited circumstances which the court feels compelled to investigate further. This might include where an English or Welsh court does not have the jurisdiction to deal with a divorce, or a marriage is not valid.
When did no fault divorce come in?
No fault divorce was introduced as a part of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 on 6 April 2022.
Do both parties have to agree to a no fault divorce?
Both parties do not need to agree to a no fault divorce due to the removal of the ability to contest a divorce. An individual can still make a sole divorce application, even if their partner does not necessarily agree with the divorce.
Why did divorce law need reform?
Under the previous law, couples wanting to separate in the UK needed to rely on one or more ‘facts’ to prove that their relationship had irretrievably broken down. These facts were:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Adultery (which was not available for civil partnership dissolution)
- Desertion for at least 2 years
- Separation for at least 2 years with the consent of both parties
- Separation for at least 5 years even if one party disagreed
- The divorce petition was brought by one party who was effectively made to ‘blame’ the other party for the divorce. If one half of the couple disagreed with the divorce or the facts relied upon, they could contest the divorce and potentially even prevent it.
This law was heavily criticised for many years for being outdated and unnecessarily stirring up conflict between couples. In the vast majority of cases, there is no such conflict during divorce – the couple naturally drifts apart or decides they want different things in life.
Even if there is conflict between the couple, many argued that the divorce ‘blame game’ was still unnecessary. If one party in the couple wants a divorce, why should they be forced to prove their grievances or potentially even be forced to stay married if the other does not agree with their reasons?
There have been several concerning cases over the years of people being forced to remain married to incompatible and sometimes even abusive partners. For example, in 2018, Tina Owens lost her Supreme Court battle to divorce her husband, forcing her to remain married against her will (until 2020, when 5 years of separation allowed her to get a divorce without her husband’s consent).
It was further to this case that the Government finally responded to calls to reform divorce law, finally bringing it into effect in April 2022.
How our no fault divorce solicitors can help you
While no fault divorce should, in theory, make the process of divorce much more straightforward, it is still just as important as ever to speak to expert divorce and separation solicitors, who can guide you through the process with practical, sensitive advice.
Whether you are making a sole or joint application, there are a number of important details that need to be carefully considered, which is where our no fault divorce solicitors in London can lend their expertise.
Even after a divorce application is made and a Final Order is issued, there will still be plenty of further arrangements which need to be made, such as the division of finances and what will happen to any children in the relationship.
No matter what the circumstances may be, our divorce solicitors always strive to provide all of our clients with a secure outcome for both them and their families. Our team are trained in collaborative law and mediation, providing a less confrontational approach which promotes a more amicable outcome to divorce.
Do you need advice about divorce, civil partnership dissolution or separation?
Crisp & Co is a dedicated firm of family lawyers who specialise in all types of family law matters, from straightforward separations to complicated divorce proceedings.
We are members of the Law Society Family Law Advanced Accreditation scheme for our skills and experience in this area and high standards of client care.
For advice about no-fault divorce or any other type of civil partnership dissolution or separation matter, get in touch with our divorce solicitors by giving us a call or filling in our online enquiry form.