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Published On: Fri, Apr 22nd, 2022

Divorce law change that introduces ‘no fault’ divorce on April 6 explained

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 is the first new piece of legislation relating to marriage breakdown to come into force since 1969. As such, it represents a much-needed modernisation of divorce law, making it more progressive and more relevant to modern life in the UK. It is viewed by many legal professionals as a move that is long overdue in England and Wales. In fact, ‘no fault’ divorces have been available in Scotland since 2006. This legislation will bring England and Wales into line with this more contemporary approach. Although this is not a complete guide, an outline of the key points to be aware of are explained in this article. 

Photo by Gerd Altmann

What was the situation before the change in legislation?

Prior to April 6th, a divorce could only be granted in England and Wales if a marriage had broken down irretrievably and both parties agreed to the divorce. This was usually after a separation period of at least two years. If the couple wanted to end their marriage more quickly, one party had to prove either unreasonable behaviour, adultery or desertion. This often meant one person having to accept liability, even just as a means to an end, in order to legally end the marriage. If one of the parties didn’t consent, however, they had to have been separated for at least 5 years before the petitioning spouse could be granted a divorce.

What the changes mean  

The change in the law will allow couples to end their marriage without attributing blame to either party, with what is known as a ‘no fault’ divorce. Additionally, in most cases, it will no longer be possible for one spouse to contest it, regardless of whether they are in favour of the divorce. This will make the whole process simpler, more streamlined and potentially less expensive. ‘Unreasonable behaviour’ is the most common reason cited for wanting a divorce, accounting for almost half of all divorce petitions. This is often seen as the only option where there is no evidence of infidelity or desertion, but it still holds unnecessarily negative connotations for the party who it is attributed to. It is thought that the new ‘no fault’ divorce will present an option which enables people to achieve a divorce more amicably.

What won’t change

The actual cost of the divorce itself will remain the same at £593, plus the cost of legal representation and fees. It will also not remove any of the common disagreements over financial settlements, however, the removal of the necessity to prove fault should at least allow discussions to begin on a more amicable footing.

 There will also be no change in the process of having to wait for a court to approve a Decree Nisi, which determines that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

It will also still be necessary in most cases to procure the services of a solicitor to help divide financial assets fairly.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the change in legislation should enable people to acquire quicker, less acrimonious and less expensive divorces. A shorter and more streamlined divorce process will have the potential to reduce solicitor’s fees associated with the arguing and ill feeling commonly associated in ‘the blame game’. 

It will hopefully also make it less difficult for those trying to break free from controlling and coercive marital relationships, whilst simultaneously relieving some of the pressure from family courts. It is intended to provide a much more constructive approach, which may also have a more positive outcome for mutual family and friends, who can often get caught up in the crossfire between warring ex-partners. 

Author: Tom Gordon

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