No Fault Divorce

31 January 2022

There has been a lot in the press in the last year or so concerning the changes which we are expecting to our divorce and dissolution laws in April 2022.  These changes are long, long overdue. This is the biggest change to the laws with which we have to work in 50 years; our current statute being the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

Previously we have had to advise our clients in relation to them having to prove the irretrievable breakdown of their marriage or civil partnership, or to wait at least two years to divorce based on a period of separation. In the absence of a period of separation, a party has previously had to make allegations about their partner’s conduct to obtain a divorce, alleging either adultery or unreasonable behaviour, creating hugely unnecessary animosity and upset at the very beginning of the process.

From 6 April 2022 couples will be able to get divorced without one person needing to blame the other. This change will also apply to civil partnership dissolution.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will see the 'ground' for divorce, the 'irretrievable breakdown of marriage' remain, but the need to give any reason in support of the breakdown of the marriage will be removed. Couples will also be able to make a joint application where they both agree that the relationship has broken down or, alternatively, one person can apply on behalf of them both. The ability to contest the divorce is also removed, save for very specific circumstances.

There will be a minimum of 20 weeks between issuing and reaching the first stage of the divorce to give a period of reflection and the possibility of reconciliation where possible.

We have all heard of 'conscious uncoupling' and for the first time in 50 years, it will now become much more feasible for our clients to seek to achieve that in relation to bringing their marriage or partnerships to an end. This sees a very positive change for children involved too who will no doubt see benefits when their parents are not in conflict from the get-go. 

The language of divorce is also changing; ‘Decree Nisi’ will become a ‘Conditional Order’, ‘Decree Absolute’ will become a ‘Final Order’ and 'petitioner’ (the person submitting the application) will become the ‘applicant’. These changes remove the legal jargon to make it more accessible for those wanting to achieve their divorce or dissolution without the assistance of lawyers in all areas of the process, perhaps choosing instead to preserve their legal fee pot for dealing with the division of their finances.

The divorce process is more or less totally online now, so these changes come at a time when the Courts are doing their utmost to streamline the process and make it more accessible to litigants in person.   There has been criticism that the change to the law erodes the sanctity of marriage and civil partnerships. However, the evidence suggests that this is not the case. The changes are certainly well-received within the legal community, and will ensure that the process is much more straight forward and less provocative for any person embarking on the process.  

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