No fault divorce – a breakthrough in family law

September 1st, 2021

Divorce doesn’t have to be a messy, complicated, ugly blame game. Sometimes, two people just decide that separate paths are the best for everyone, and go their separate ways. However, for decades, the legal system has been criticised when it comes to divorce law for instigating conflict between couples, as they are forced to place blame or to remain married to incompatible or abusive spouses. This new legislation could make the whole system much, much easier, especially for couples who simply want to separate and move on with their lives.

Now, a new piece of legislation will allow them to do exactly that. Under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, married couples can issue divorce proceedings without assigning blame, effectively a no-fault divorce. This no-fault divorce legislation will come into force on the 6 April 2022.

What’s so different about this law?

Previously, couples who wanted to get divorced were required to rely on one of the ‘five facts’ to establish the ground for divorce. Any one or a combination of these would be used to prove that a marriage had broken down irretrievably. These five facts are:

  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Adultery
  • Desertion
  • Separation for at least 2 years with consent from both parties
  • Separation for at least 5 years

However, if couples couldn’t cite any of the above reasons, it was difficult to pursue the process and the legal system effectively forced divorcing couples to play the ‘blame game’ simply to get the result they wanted. This archaic ruling harked back to the days when divorce was a social stigma, and couples who simply and amicably wanted to part would be forced to effectively accuse one another of non-existent misdemeanours or ‘take one for the team’ to actually get the courts to grant a divorce.

How this will work

So what’s changed? Well, it’s important to understand that the grounds for divorce will remain the same. However, the spouse applying for the divorce will no longer be required to provide evidence that one or more of the ‘five facts’ are a reason for separation or have been responsible for the breakdown of their marriage.

There will be a new minimum period of 20 weeks from the start of the divorce proceedings to the Conditional Order being pronounced. The applicant spouse will then be able to apply for a Final Order after six weeks from the date of the Conditional Order (unless they are resolving financial matters, in which case they may not wish to do so).

This keeps a divorce simply about the separation of two people and their financial arrangements, rather than a ‘he said/she said’ war of words in court that could drag on for years. It also means that if children are involved, it keeps things civil and calm, causing far less stress and anxiety during what is already a highly emotional and challenging time for everyone.

Why does a no-fault divorce matter?

The current law is set out in a statue from 1973. This was a time when The Equality Act was still in its infancy, the idea of a spouse as ‘property’ was still left over from the 1950s and ‘60s, and, well, let’s be honest, times have changed since the early seventies.

A no-fault divorce matters because it fits in with the modern way of living. It removes the ‘blame game’ from the process, giving everyone equal standing and the right to walk away from a relationship that has run out of steam without having to alienate an ex-spouse by falsely accusing them of ‘unreasonable behaviour’, for example, when all that’s happened is that the relationship has simply fizzled out.

A separation is a difficult time for any family to go through. Hopefully the introduction of no-fault divorces will prevent situations where the current law has the potential to exacerbate conflict in already difficult sets of circumstances. It should make dealing with the inevitable arrangements for the children and financial matters which stem from a divorce much easier and amicable, less stressful, and devoid of animosity and hostility. That has to be a good thing for everyone.