Since April 2022, couples in England and Wales have been able to take advantage of a new ‘no fault’ divorce process, under the terms of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020. This represents a significant change to how divorce works in England and Wales, so it is important for couples contemplating divorce to understand what the reforms means, as well as the advantages and the potential disadvantages.
What is no fault divorce?
The introduction of no fault divorce in 2022 is one of the key changes included in the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020. It means that there is no longer any need to assign blame for the end of the relationship when making a divorce application.
Previously, the divorce application needed to cite one of five accepted reasons for the end of the marriage. These were:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Separation for at least 2 years (with both party’s consent)
- Separation for at least 5 years
The first three of these reasons all required one of the spouses to accept they were at fault in order for the marriage to end. The final two involved living separately for years before being able to apply for divorce. Under the new rules, there is no need to give a reason for the marriage ending in the divorce application. Instead, the application simply needs to contain a ‘statement of irretrievable breakdown’ making clear that the marriage is over.
The Act also introduced a number of other reforms, including removing the possibility for a person to contest a divorce started by their spouse in almost all cases. There is also now the option for couples to apply for divorce together (known as a joint application).
What are the positives of no fault divorce?
When thinking about no fault divorce pros and cons in the UK, there are many benefits to consider, including:
- Removing the potential for unnecessary conflict – As neither person needs to “take the blame” for the end of the relationship, there is less chance of dispute over who is to blame. Fault and blame are known to cause conflict and can then make all parts of the divorce process harder. The removal of blame and thus reduction in conflict is one of the key benefits of no fault divorce.
- Allowing couples to apply for divorce together – This can make the process more harmonious, rather than something one spouse is taking the lead on.
- The divorce cannot be contested in almost all circumstances – If one spouse does not want the divorce to happen, they can no longer prevent it (except in very limited circumstances that won’t apply to most divorces). This means people cannot be trapped in a marriage they wish to leave, as previously sometimes happened.
- Making the whole divorce process easier – Removing the potential for unnecessary conflict can make it easier for couples to work together on issues such as the division of finances and arrangements for children. This not only reduces the stress involved, but can minimise the likelihood of long and costly court proceedings.
- Making it easier for divorcing couples to maintain a positive relationship – This is particularly important where they have children they will need to co-parent.
What are the negatives of no fault divorce?
While we believe the new no fault divorce laws are positive overall, there are some concerns that people might consider to be problems with no fault divorce, such as:
- The process now takes a minimum of 6 months – Before, it was theoretically possible to process a divorce application and legally end a marriage in a shorter amount of time. However, it is worth noting that the division of finances and arrangements for children typically take longer than this, so few divorces were really “completed” in under 6 months even before the reforms.
- Divorce is “too easy” now – Some people may feel that the no fault divorce process is too simple, making it easier for couples to end their marriage and less likely to work at salvaging their relationship. This is one of the reasons for the introduction of a 20-week waiting period between the application and the issuing of the Conditional Order. Time will tell whether there is an increase in divorce rates now the new rules are in place, but our experience as divorce lawyers suggests more harm was caused by the barriers to divorce that existed under old law, than might be caused by the more straight-forward process.
- Neither person has to take responsibility for the end of the relationship – This is a double-edged sword. While taking away the need to assign blame removes a lot of potential for conflict, in some cases, people want their spouse to accept responsibility for the end of the marriage. Whilst on the surface one party blaming the other for adultery or unreasonably behaviour might have felt like a ‘win’ in legal terms it made no difference to the outcome of the divorce and in our experience rarely led to a true sense of satisfaction.
Do you need a lawyer for a no fault divorce?
While the legal process to apply for a divorce has changed under the no fault divorce system, this does not change the requirement for good legal advice. Separating couples are strongly recommended to speak to an experienced divorce lawyer for assistance with matters such as:
- How finances should be divided – For example, what will happen to the family home, pensions and other savings and investments, as well as whether maintenance payments will be needed.
- Arrangements for children – So you understand your rights and the different options for resolving these matters.
- Preparing legal documents – Such as the consent order to make any financial agreement between the parties legally binding.
- Negotiating the terms of your separation – Including the division of finances and arrangements for children. This might involve private negotiation with your lawyer beside you or advice on agreeing terms directly with your spouse via mediation.
- Advice and representation for court proceedings – If you cannot reach an agreement amicably, your solicitor will advise on court proceedings and represent you if required.
Talk to Woolley & Co Solicitors about your divorce
Divorce can be a challenging process, but with the right legal support it can be made much simpler.
At Woolley & Co Solicitors, our expert divorce lawyers can offer specialist legal advice on no fault divorce pros and cons in the UK, as well as the full implications of getting divorced, including for your finances and any children you have.
Divorce & family lawyer