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‘No fault divorce’ is now a reality

As of today, 6 April 2022, the biggest change in divorce law will come into force in the UK: the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will remove the necessity for couples to attribute blame or wait the previous two-year minimum separation period in order to get divorced. Instead, providing a statement of irretrievable breakdown will be sufficient to begin divorce proceedings. The new no fault divorce law will apply equally to both those seeking a divorce and civil partners seeking a dissolution of their partnership.

Can I still divorce my spouse in accordance with the previous divorce laws?

Until last week, if a couple chose to divorce, they had to prove that the marriage had broken down irretrievably by choosing one of five reasons:

  1. Adultery
  2. Unreasonable behaviour
  3. Desertion
  4. Separation – at least two years with consent
  5. Separation – five years or more

The first three reasons required one member of the couple to attribute blame to the other, indeed unreasonable behaviour was often chosen by a spouse when initiating divorce proceedings, which many felt only added to the strain of an already difficult separation. 

The remaining two options, if applicable, meant that couples who wanted to move on with their lives had to wait at least 2 years until they could finalise their divorce.

From last week, 31st March 2022, however, when the cut off for new applications under the existing laws was implemented, couples can no longer rely on any of the above five reasons. New applications (which can be submitted from 6th April) must now be made in accordance with the new ‘no fault’ divorce laws, as explained below.  

What are the new rules?

The divorce law reform offers one way forward, that being that both parties simply agree that their marriage has broken down irretrievably and wish to divorce. Neither party is expected to assign blame for their separation and so it is hoped that the new process should be far more amicable and harmonious. The process can be instigated by one spouse or a joint application can be made, which many feel will help, as neither party will feel that the other has instigated the proceedings against the other.

Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland is quoted as saying that the no fault divorce laws should “stop divorcing couples having to make unnecessary allegations against one another and instead help them focus on separating amicably”. No fault divorce does not simplify the divorce process, nor does it mean we’ll see more “quickie divorces”; instead, it will allow couples to work through the divorce process respectfully, which, if children are involved, will be beneficial to all parties.

The new rules will also update the language used in divorce, for instance:

  • Decree Nisi will be Conditional Order
  • Decree Absolute will be Final Order

The process will change slightly in that a new minimum of 20 weeks must pass between the start of divorce proceedings to when the Conditional Order can be passed. This “cooling off” period is to ensure time for reflection and will allow couples to focus on arriving at a financial settlement and suitable arrangements for the care of their children.

The existing minimum of six weeks between the Conditional Order and the Final Order will remain in place.

Why is ‘no fault divorce’ so important?

As a Family lawyer, when I have a client approach me because they want to divorce their spouse, it is because they have explored all the other options and cannot make the marriage work. By removing the ‘blame game’ element of a divorce, couples can agree the terms of their divorce (financial settlements, children arrangements, etc.) constructively and agreeably.

As a Family Mediator and Collaborative Lawyer, I can help with all aspects of family law, from pre-nuptial agreements to making arrangements due to a relationship breakdown. If you would like further information on the divorce law reforms or would like to discuss your personal situation, please do not hesitate to contact me, Helen Cankett at: helen.cankett@bpe.co.uk or by telephone on 01242 248256.  


These notes have been prepared for the purpose of articles only. They should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice.

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