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No-Fault Divorce UK 2022 Update

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No-Fault Divorce UK 2022 Update

No-fault divorce – what does it mean?

On the 6th April 2022, the introduction of a no-fault divorce will become reality. After over 30 years of this being campaigned for, in just a few short weeks, the way in which practitioners know the divorce process will totally change. This is one of the most monumental changes to the law. The Government’s Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will streamline the divorce process. This will allow for more amicable divorces between couples. Finally, parties can focus and remain constructive in relation to financial and children matters. So, what is a no-fault divorce, and what changes do we expect to see?

No-fault divorce campaign

UK Divorce law has been criticised for being outdated for many years. It fails to recognise that some couples simply naturally drift apart.

The campaign for no-fault divorce is supported by Resolution. Resolution is the UK’s largest network of family justice professionals, committed to a non-confrontational approach to family law issues. All the family lawyers at Crane & Staples are members of Resolution. You can find out more about Resolution’s campaign for no-fault divorce here: https://resolution.org.uk/no-fault-divorce/

Owens v Owens

Numerous cases have led to people being forced to remain married. The case that finally initiated change was that of Tina Owens.

This case supports the introduction of the changes as Mrs Owens petitioned based on Mr Owens’ behaviour. The couple married in 1978 and Mrs Owens left their marital home in 2015. Mr Owens contested the proceedings. The Judge felt that Mr Owens’ behaviour, as cited by Mrs Owen’s in the petition, was insufficient to allow the divorce to proceed. The matter progressed to the Court of Appeal, which upheld the Judgment. Mrs Owens then had to make a final appeal to the Supreme Court. However, they also dismissed that appeal, meaning she had to remain married until at least 2020.

The idea that Ms Owens was locked into an unhappy marriage left many in the legal profession concerned. Baroness Hale, the court’s president at the time, called it “a very troubling case”.

Current Divorce Law

The current grounds for divorce in the UK are that you must prove irretrievable breakdown of the marriage by way of one of five reasons:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • 2 years separation with consent
  • Desertion for at least 2 years
  • 5 years separation

If an individual seeks to start divorce without delay, at present, one party must apportion blame on their spouse. If they do not want to place blame on their spouse, they must wait for a considerable amount of time before filing for a divorce.

What is a no-fault divorce?

The definition of a no-fault divorce is a divorce which does not apportion blame to either party. They will only have to cite irretrievable breakdown. The removal of fault or blame from this process will change parties’ outlooks in these proceedings. It is hoped it will take away from the stress and any hostility between parties. This should totally modernise the way divorce is thought about.

An example of a no-fault divorce: Mr and Mrs Smith come to the unfortunate decision that their marriage has broken apart. They both feel that they want different things with their lives. However, for the sake of their children, they wish to remain as amicable as possible. In this case, the parties may decide to issue a joint application for a no-fault divorce based on irretrievable breakdown.

We appreciate that not all divorces start on amicable grounds. We are here to guide you through the new process and make it as stress free as possible.

What are the advantages of a no-fault divorce?

It is anticipated that the benefits of no-fault divorce will be as follows:

  • Less conflict – the end of the blame game culture is sure to end hostility in most cases. It will ensure parties focus on any children and financial matters resulting from the divorce. As parties are starting off on a better foot, these may be resolved with a different outlook.
  • A speed up of the current process – current divorces seem to be taking longer and longer. It is hoped the streamlined process will assist in progressing matters in a swifter manner.
  • Decreased costs – with the element of blame disappearing, it may be the case that more parties decide to complete their divorces in person. Even if they cannot, it is expected that costs of solicitors for divorces alone are likely to decrease in most cases.
  • Introduction of joint petitions – the changes will, for the first time, allow a couple to apply jointly for a divorce, rather than forcing one to file against the other.
  • Changes of terminology – the current divorce process uses some archaic terminology which will change under the new rules. For example, the Petitioner will now be known as the Applicant, the Decree Nisi is to be called a Conditional Order and the Decree Absolute a Final Order of divorce.
  • The Government also notes that it will have the added benefit of not allowing domestic abusers to trap a spouse in a marriage by contesting a divorce: “It will also stop one partner contesting a divorce if the other wants one – which in some cases has allowed domestic abusers to exercise further coercive control over their victim.”

Are there any disadvantages to a no-fault divorce?

Whilst for many, this is a welcome reform, there are also some arguments against no-fault divorce in the UK.

Some potential issues with no-fault divorce may be as follows:

  • Is the process too easy? Some may argue it takes away from the sanctity of marriage as it will now be so much easier to obtain a divorce.
  • Will the online system encounter any issues? This is yet to be seen but it is anticipated that there will be some initial teething problems with the process.
  • Some divorced couples may feel a sense of validation that unreasonable behaviour or adultery is officially recorded as the reason for the marriage ending. This idea is examined further in this article by inews.

How will no-fault divorce work?

The main changes are as follows:

  • To allow for a more amicable start to the process, the fault-based element of the divorce will be removed
  • The option to contest will be removed
  • Joint applications can be made
  • An update of archaic divorce language
  • The introduction of a new minimum 20-week period from the start of the proceedings to when the Conditional Order can be made. The usual 6 weeks between the Conditional and Final Order will remain.

It is important not to rush your divorce and you should always consider any financial implications of your divorce.

It is still important to take legal advice on both divorce and financial matters. Both lawyers and campaigners feel that the removal of blame does not necessarily change how difficult and complex a divorce can be. 

How long do you have to be separated to get a no-fault divorce?

The key meaning of a no-fault divorce is that you will no longer need to prove breakdown of a marriage based on one of the 5 factors listed above. You will not need to wait for a certain period to start proceedings. So long as there is irretrievable breakdown, the divorce can now progress.

Will a no-fault divorce be quicker?

The new process  is not anticipated to be quicker because the process involves a period of 6 months before you can obtain a final divorce order.

Cases surrounding financial matters and children remain the same and these are core issues must still be dealt with. We recommend appropriate legal advice is obtained in these circumstances.

When will no-fault divorce become law in the UK?

From the 6th April 2022, the new paper and digital services will be available for a no fault divorce.

Current applications, both digital and paper, must be submitted by 4pm 31st March 2022 and any urgent applications must be received by 5th April 2022.

Is no-fault divorce now law?

Yes, from April 2022, the new no-fault divorce law will finally bring around long-awaited reforms to divorce. This was originally announced in 2019.

Your Local Divorce Solicitors

At Crane & Staples, we welcome the new no-fault divorce legislation and have supported the campaign for many years. The new laws will hopefully help more couples to resolve their issues amicably.

We are divorce law specialists based in Welwyn Garden City. Our friendly team would be pleased to assist and advise you with issuing a no-fault divorce and guide you through the process.

Please contact us here or call us on 01707 329333.

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