No Fault Divorce – What you need to know

The early part of the year tends to be an extremely a busy time for family law solicitors with a rise in couples seeking to dissolve their marriages or civil partnerships.  This year brings with it big changes to divorce law with no fault divorce becoming a reality on 6th April.  But what do these changes mean? Rachel Macwilliam from our Family Law team outlines the various changes that the new no fault divorce process brings.

In simple terms, no fault divorce means that separated couples no longer have to begin their divorce / dissolution process by either apportioning blame or waiting for two years or more, as has been the case for the best part of the past 50 years.  Until 6th April 2022, divorce law in the UK was governed by the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1973, so it was certainly due for a serious overhaul to reflect the seismic social changes which have taken place during that time.

The Matrimonial Causes Act of 1973 required that, in order to start the divorce process close to the point of separation, one person must accuse the other of either adultery or unreasonable behaviour. The alternative was that they waited for a minimum period of two years, or five years if one of the parties did not consent after two.

This often caused an unnecessarily acrimonious start to the whole process. In addition, by forcing couples who had separated amicably to wait two years to start the process, problems arose when it came to matrimonial finances, which may have been resolved at the time of separation but then faced scrutiny by the court, and opened a potential avenue for conflict.

 The new regime has been long awaited by family lawyers, who recognise the damage that the rigid rules can cause. As well as removing the blame element of divorce, there are a number of other changes to the process you may not be aware of which are outlined below:

The end of the blame game
As mentioned earlier, the introduction of no-fault divorce means that blame element has been removed, so neither party needs to be deemed to blame for the end of the marriage. There will of course always be cases where the marriage has broken down acrimoniously, but there will now no longer be the need to prove the reasons why.

Some of the terms will change
In terms of the stages of the divorce process, the two main stages of decree nisi and decree absolute remain, but they will be referred to differently. A decree nisi is now called a conditional order of divorce and a decree absolute is now referred to as the final order of divorce. There is no longer a petition but an application for divorce, and a petitioner is now be known as an applicant.

A joint decision?
Prior to no fault divorce, one party had to petition against the other, again feeding into the culture of conflict. In no fault divorce, although one party can still make the application on their own against the other, there is now the option for both parties to apply for the divorce jointly. This should hopefully provide a calmer and far less acrimonious footing upon which to commence the whole process.

A no fault divorce cannot be contested
Applications for divorce under the no-fault regime cannot be contested, whether it is an individual or a joint application. In previous high profile cases such as Owens v Owens in 2018, a spouse could contest a divorce petition and the divorce could be refused by the Court if the specific fact relied upon was not proven.

Not a ‘quickie divorce’ option
Concerns were raised prior to the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 being passed that the proposed new regime would create a culture of ‘quickie divorces’.

In order to prevent the new process being seen as a quick and easy way to dissolve a marriage without proper consideration and process, a minimum duration of 20 weeks has been introduced between the issuing of the divorce application and the application for a conditional order to ensure that there is adequate time for a period of reflection before completing the process. The existing period of six weeks between conditional order (previously the decree nisi) and the final order (previously the decree absolute) remains the same, meaning that a divorce will now take a minimum of 26 weeks (six months).

Date for your diary
After a long 18 months of waiting patiently, the new regime came into force on 6th April 2022. All divorces now proceed under the no-fault system.

Get in touch
If you have a family law matter which you would like to discuss with our friendly and experienced team, just call us on 01872 241408 or email us