Burnett Barker Solicitors Family CILEX Lawyer, Melanie Stafford, explains how no-fault divorce will work when England and Wales divorce law changes in April 2022.
A summary of current divorce law
Currently, if a marriage has irretrievably broken down there are only two ways to start the divorce process within two years of the separation. You have to apply for a divorce on the basis of one of the following:
- Your spouse having committed adultery, or
- That they have behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with them (often referred to as ‘unreasonable behaviour’)
Alternatively, you could start the divorce process once you have been separated for two years. This is so long as your spouse consents to this or in the rare cases when you can cite “desertion”, or you can wait until you have been separated for five years.
However, this is set to change in on 6 April 2022, when the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 comes into force with the introduction of no-fault divorce.
What is no-fault divorce?
No-fault divorce means that married couples will be able to dissolve their marriage or civil partnership without one person needing to blame the other.
This will be a welcome relief to many people as couples will be able to divorce solely on the basis that their marriage has broken down. They will not need to cite one of the five reasons for divorce, which removes the concept of ‘fault’.
Couples will be able to jointly apply for divorce
Only ‘irretrievable breakdown’ must be proven, and in fact, couples can make the application jointly. Again, this will be another significant change in the law as currently one spouse must issue divorce proceedings against the other.
Minimum of 20 weeks
To offset concerns that the reforms will make divorce easier and quicker, there will be a minimum of 20 weeks between the application and final divorce. This is to give the couple ample time to reflect on their decision before committing to a divorce.
There will still be two stages to the divorce process (decree nisi and decree absolute), but the legal terminology will change. The decree nisi (document from the court stating that it does not see any reason why you cannot divorce) will become a conditional order of divorce. The decree absolute (the legal document issued by the court ending a marriage) will become the final order of divorce.
Contesting a divorce will no longer be possible
As an example, in the current fault-based system for divorce, a person may make an application citing adultery as the reason for divorce, and their spouse can contest this. However, under the no-fault divorce system, the option to defend an application will be removed.
Easing tension in the divorce process
For quite some time, many family lawyers have longed for a route to divorce that lessens animosity and helps to make the process as amicable as possible.
As members of Resolution, which has been campaigning for the change in law for several years, the Family Law Team at Burnett Barker Solicitors is delighted with the forthcoming change in law.
Being able to say that a marriage or civil partnership has broken down, without either party being to blame, will lessen tension between couples.
For many, the change in law will enable them to work together in a non-confrontational constructive way. This, of course, is in their best interests and that of their children.
What are your current options?
As 6 April 2022 is still a while away, current laws still apply. This means that one spouse needs to issue divorce proceedings against the other (if your marriage has irretrievably broken down and you wish to divorce).
However, our family law team takes a non-confrontational approach. As such, they will help diffuse situations wherever possible. They will be with you at every step of the way to make the divorce process as straightforward as possible.
If you unsure as to which route is best for you or if you would like advice in any other area of family law, please contact us. We offer an initial one-to-one family law consultation for a fixed fee of £149.
Most clients discover something they were unaware of in this consultation, which reaffirms how important it is to find out what your options are.