What is No Fault Divorce and Civil Partnership Dissolution?  

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An end to the blame game.

Beth Evans and Simon Hawkins, Family law experts and Divorce solicitors examine the changes in the grounds for divorce laws leading to the introduction of no fault divorce.

For over 50 years, couples seeking a divorce in England and Wales must either:

  • Spend a minimum of 2 years separated

or

  • One must blame the other for the marriage breakdown, citing adultery or unreasonable behaviour, even when both parties agree that the relationship is over.

This often creates conflict and confrontation at the start of what is already a very difficult and often painful process, setting a negative tone for the more important discussions to follow around money and children.

Changing the divorce law

Family lawyers and other professionals committed to the constructive resolution of issues that arise on the breakdown of a marriage have long campaigned for a change in the law. Family justice organisation Resolution spearheaded a 30-year call for no fault divorce, contending that removing the need to blame from the divorce process would increase the chances of successful non-court dispute resolution, in turn reducing the burden on the family court.

The long-awaited change came with the Divorce, Dissolution, and Separation Act 2020 which will come into force on 6 April 2022 and allow the nearly 100,000 couples who divorce each year to do so without assigning blame and to resolve their issues amicably.

What does no fault divorce mean?

From April 2022 divorcing couples will be able to cite “irretrievable breakdown” as the sole ground for a divorce, popularly known as no-fault divorce. In addition, the possibility of defending a divorce or the dissolution of a civil partnership has been removed.

The aim of the changes is to reduce conflict between separating couples who are either married or in a civil partnership.

How do I apply for a no fault divorce in the UK?

The procedure to apply for a divorce or civil partnership dissolution has been updated to reflect the change in the law:

  • Terminology has been changed to make it simpler and more accessible. Petitions are now applications, decree nisi becomes a conditional order and decree absolute, the final decree of divorce or dissolution, will be known as a final order.
  • A divorce or dissolution application can be filed by one party to the marriage or civil partnership as now, or, for the first time, by the parties jointly. The sole ground for the application is that one or both parties consider that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. The court fee to make the application is currently £593, although an application can be made for fee remission if the applicant(s) income is low.
  • Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service Applications is launching a new online service through which divorce and dissolution applications can be issued. Paper applications will also be possible where an online application is not appropriate for whatever reason.
  • Once the application has been issued by the court it will be served on the parties and the rules now allow for this to be effected by email supported by postal notification.
  • In cases where the application has been issued by a sole applicant, the person receiving the application will have 14 days to respond. In the case of a joint application, both parties must acknowledge the application within 14 days of receipt. These responses can be submitted digitally in most cases.
  • Following the issue of the application, there will be a minimum 20-week period before the applicant, or joint applicants can apply to the court for the making of a conditional order of divorce or dissolution. This gives the parties a period to reflect on the decision to proceed with a divorce or dissolution and to try and resolve any arrangements regarding children and finances.
  • If one of the joint applicants refuses to progress the application and apply for a conditional order, the application may be progressed by the other party, switching the case from a joint to a sole application. There are similar provisions to enable an application for a final order to be made by just one of the joint applicants, on notice to the other.
  • There then follows a mandatory 6-week period from the conditional order before the applicant(s) can apply for a final order.
  • An applicant can ask the court to consider ordering that the other party pays some or all of the costs they have incurred in relation to the divorce or dissolution but this will require a specific application to the court, on notice to the other party.
  • Divorcing couples can expect the process to take at least 6 months, and often longer if there are financial / pension issues to be negotiated and resolved.
  • The change to divorce will not impact the way the courts approach a division of the parties’ assets, and the law in this regard remains unchanged.

What will the changes in divorce law mean for people?

These changes will undoubtedly lead to more divorcing couples issuing divorce proceedings themselves and without the assistance of a solicitor.

Solicitors are bound by rules of professional conduct to avoid “conflicts of interest” which rules in most cases prevent them from acting for both parties in a divorce or dissolution, even where there is agreement and a joint application for divorce or dissolution. However, just because each party has a different solicitor, or one party chooses not to have representation, this does not mean that the divorce needs to be acrimonious. It is anticipated that the change in divorce law will have a positive impact on the work of family lawyers as they guide separating families through the divorce process in the hope of reaching amicable and constructive agreements which meet the needs of the family as a whole.

Do I still need a solicitor for my no fault divorce?

It remains the case that the interests of separating couples will be best served by them each seeking advice from an experienced family lawyer at an early stage and before the issue of divorce proceedings. That advice will remain vital in considering the appropriate and fair division of the assets, pensions, and maintenance and ensuring that informed decisions can be made about how best to proceed. Although the issue of divorce proceedings will lead to the dissolution of the marriage or civil partnership, the process will itself do nothing to address financial matters or future arrangements for the parties’ children.

For more information on no fault divorce or civil partnership dissolution, you can contact our family law experts today. You can use the contact form found here, or on this page and someone can call you back. Alternatively, you can call us on 01453 847200

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