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What No Fault Divorce Means for Separating Couples
The biggest shake up of divorce law in decades is set to come into effect from autumn 2021 in England and Wales. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, will introduce ‘no fault’ divorce, a change which is aiming to bring divorce into the 21st century and to end the ‘blame game’.
The new law will allow separating couples to apply for a divorce or civil partnership dissolution without the need to assign blame to one spouse. This much-welcomed new law will allow couples to divorce in a more amicable way and to avoid any unnecessary disputes that arise from the current fault-based process.
The current divorce law
Under the current law, one spouse must petition a court for divorce, for which the sole ground is that ‘the marriage has irretrievably broken down’. The applicant must support this with at least one of the following five ‘facts’:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Separated for two years (both partners must agree to this in writing)
- Separated for five years
The first two facts are the only two which will allow a divorce petition to be issued immediately and these both require an element of blame. The other three require a period of separation before a divorce petition can be issued.
What are the key changes to divorce law?
The key changes to the current divorce law are:
- The ‘irretrievable breakdown of marriage’ will still be the sole ground for divorce, however couples will no longer have to provide evidence of a ‘fact’ e.g. adultery as a reason. Instead they will be required to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown, removing the element of blame.
- The divorce process will still be in two-stages which are ‘decree nisi’ and ‘decree absolute’. However, the language will be modernised so that ‘decree nisi’ will become a ‘conditional order’ and ‘decree absolute’ will become a ‘final order’.
- Couples will be allowed to apply for a joint divorce, allowing couples to mutually and amicably separate without blame.
- The option to contest a divorce will be removed.
- A new minimum timeframe of 20 weeks, from petition to decree nisi or ‘conditional order’ will be introduced to provide a window of ‘meaningful reflection’ for couples, giving them the option to turn back if they wish. If, however, divorce is inevitable, this time can be used to make practical arrangements for the future.
What does this mean for separating couples?
The new changes to the law allow separating couples to focus on moving forward, rather than on blaming each other for the breakdown of the relationship. The current fault-based system can increase conflict and animosity between couples, resulting in a longer divorce process and making it harder for them to move forward with their lives.
Conflict between divorcing couples is known to have a damaging effect on children’s mental health and wellbeing, so it is hoped that these new changes will help couples to avoid this as much as possible.
The new minimum period of 20 weeks between petition and the conditional order, will allow couples time to reflect on the divorce and to make any practical arrangements needed to move forward from the relationship. This is particularly beneficial for couples with children who wish to maintain a good relationship with their ex-partner as a co-parent.
Although very few divorces are contested in the UK, removing this option decreases animosity between couples, and can stop abusers from misusing the system to continue to have control over their partner.
Get help with a divorce
If you are considering a divorce or civil partnership dissolution, our dedicated divorce solicitors can provide clear and constructive advice to help you through the process. We have the sensitivity and expertise to help you, no matter how complicated your situation.
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