No Fault Divorce – Landmark Divorce Law Update
In one of the biggest overhauls of divorce law in half a century, a bill introducing “no-fault” divorces in England and Wales has been backed by MPs, voting in favour of the latest stage of the ‘Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill’. The Office of National Statistics reported that 110,000 couples got divorced in England and Wales in 2019, all of which took place under a law that has been deemed damaging to couples and children. Resolution, The national family justice body, has been campaigning for 30 years to end the requirement for couples to assign fault in order to be granted divorce, aiming to reduce the impact that allegations of blame can have on a couple and most importantly any children involved.
Welcoming the development, Resolution’s National Chair, Margaret Heathcote, said:
“Our members have been campaigning for change for years, in Westminster and in towns and cities across the country where they work. They’re all committed to reducing conflict between separating couples, but our outdated divorce laws have meant they’ve been working with one hand tied behind their back.
“This new law will mean they’re better able to support couples to resolve matters as constructively and amicably as possible, minimising the impact on any children they may have.”
Under traditional procedures, one spouse was required make accusations about the other’s conduct, ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or adultery for example, or alternatively be required to face years of separation before a couple can be granted a divorce, even if the decision to separate was mutual.
When passed, the new law will allow a statement of irretrievable breakdown, enabling couples to divorce without the need to make an accusation of bad behaviour, and also allows for a new option in which couples can jointly apply for a divorce where the decision to separate is a mutual one. Terms such as “decree nisi” and “decree absolute” will be replaced with “conditional order” and “final order” and “petitioners” will also become “applicants”.
There will be a minimum time frame of 20 weeks (6 months) post the petition stage, with an “opportunity to reflect and turn back” and if after the end of that period the applicant affirms their decision to get divorced, couples will be able to have their divorce granted.
It is hoped that the new law will remove the ‘blame-game’ and stop one partner contesting a divorce if the other wants one – previously allowing abusive partners to exert controlling or coercive behaviour is some instances. However, divorce proceedings will still be challengeable on certain grounds including fraud and coercion.
The new reform has been welcomed as an overdue and progressive update by legal experts, politicians, members of the public and even pro-marriage campaigners. The announcement comes following a consultation paper published last autumn by the justice secretary, Mr Gauke, which received more than 600 responses - the majority of which were “overwhelmingly in support” he said that under the new law, Britain will have “a system of divorce that is fit for the 21st Century”.
If you would like to speak us regarding “no fault” divorce law or any other questions concerning family law, please contact our expert divorce solicitors, Zubair Dharamsi, Dimitra Pantopoulou and Andrew Perryman.
Please note that this article is meant as general guidance and not intended as legal or professional advice. Updates to the law may have changed since this article was published