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What is No-Fault Divorce?
From autumn 2021, it will become much simpler for couples to get a divorce or civil partnership dissolution. Couples will no longer have to prove ‘reasons’ or ‘facts’ for the separation, ending the ‘blame game’ that currently makes the process so stressful and drives many couples to court. This new process is being referred to as ‘no-fault divorce’.
No-fault divorce has been long awaited by many who support a more amicable approach to divorce and dissolution. Although tv, film and other media often portray separation and divorce as an angry, bitter and hostile process, the reality is that with the right support, most couples are able to work through their issues peacefully without going anywhere near a courtroom.
How does divorce law currently work?
There is one ‘ground’ for divorce – the irretrievable breakdown of the relationship. As the law currently stands, whoever applies for the divorce or dissolution must rely on one or more of the five ‘facts’ or ‘reasons’ to show that the relationship has irretrievably broken down. These are:
- Adultery (only for divorce where one party has sexual intercourse with a member of the opposite sex)
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Separation for two years with consent
- Separation for five years (agreement not needed unless the disagreeing party can prove separation would cause severe financial hardship)
One party may object to the divorce petition or dissolution application if they do not agree to it and/or they disagree with the reasons provided.
How is divorce law changing?
The following key changes will be introduced in autumn 2021:
- The ‘irretrievable breakdown of the relationship’ will remain the sole ground for divorce
- The five ‘facts’ required to prove irretrievable breakdown will be abolished
- The applying party need only provide a statement stating that the relationship has irretrievably broken down
- The parties will be able to make a joint application or either party can make a sole application
- Neither party will be able to contest the application other than in extremely narrow circumstances
- Some terminology is changing:
- ‘Petition’ will become ‘application’
- ‘Decree nisi’ will become ‘conditional order’
- ‘Decree absolute’ will become ‘final order’
- There will be a minimum timeframe of 20 weeks between the issue of the application and the conditional order for the parties to reflect and (if separation is certain) make arrangements for the future regarding finances and any children
Why is divorce law changing?
The problem with the existing law is that it does not reflect the true reality for many separating couples and unnecessarily focuses the divorce or dissolution on what has happened in the past rather than looking towards the future.
Under the existing law, couples must either blame the whole relationship breakdown on one party or wait between two and five years to get a divorce or dissolution. This is unfair to couples who have simply drifted apart or started to want different things in life. Even for couples who have ended their relationship suddenly due to a triggering event (such as adultery), the current divorce process only tends to stir up unnecessary conflict.
Therefore, the law is changing to make it easier for couples to get a divorce or civil partnership dissolution and encourage a more amicable process. The new law will also help individuals who are trapped in loveless marriages and civil partnerships but cannot leave because their partner objects (as in the recent Tini Owens court case).
Overall, the changes signal a long awaited move towards a more cooperative and reflective divorce process. As well as the removal of the five facts, the minimum 20-week period between the application and conditional order (which is essentially the court giving its permission for the divorce or dissolution to go ahead) gives the couple breathing room to either work through their issues or sort out practical matters such as childcare and finances.
Should you wait for no-fault divorce to come in?
If you are ready to get a divorce or civil partnership dissolution, the best option is probably to go ahead with it. Although blaming the entire divorce on one party may not be appealing, in the vast majority of separations, it has no practical effect on the outcome of the proceedings. Only in extremely rare and serious circumstances will conduct be taken into account during financial or children proceedings (e.g. serious and exceptional cases of domestic violence).
Therefore, unless you have reason to believe that your partner will fight your divorce or dissolution application, there is no need to wait.
However, if you are worried about your application being challenged, it is worth seeking tailored legal advice from a family law expert.
Get expert advice about divorce and civil partnership dissolution
If you are thinking about getting a divorce or civil partnership dissolution, our skilled and dedicated team of divorce solicitors are here to help. We can provide clear, constructive advice to make the process as smooth and straightforward as possible.