No-fault Divorce Ends The Blame Game - What Do I Need To Know?
The government’s Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 has drastically reformed the divorce process by removing the concept of fault with the aim of simplifying the proceedings and helping couples avoid unnecessary acrimony.
It is now no longer necessary – or even possible for either party to prove ‘fault’ or have from 2 to 5 years of separation in order to obtain a divorce. This is part of the new no-fault divorce law that aims to end the ‘blame game’ that blighted the old divorce process.
The new divorce law allows for a divorce without either party attributing fault or waiting for lengthy separation periods. One person or a couple jointly can make a simple statement of irretrievable breakdown without giving any reasons.
New No Fault Divorce Law Changes Explained for 2022
The new divorce law came into legal force in England and Wales on 6 April 2022 and also applies to civil partnership dissolution.
No-fault divorce is a divorce procedure that does not apportion blame to either party. The most important aspect of no-fault divorce is the removal of fault or blame from the divorce process.
Married couples in England and Wales can now start divorce proceedings without having to blame their ex-partner for the breakdown of the marriage as no-fault divorce legislation comes into legal force.
Previously, under the outdated divorce law, couples needed to prove the breakdown of their marriage through unreasonable behaviour, adultery, or desertion. If there wasn’t an agreement to divorce, couples were left with no option but to wait until they had been living separately for 5 years.
It is widely accepted amongst family law professionals that the divorce law needed to be changed. Commenting on the adoption of no-fault divorce in England and Wales, Aidan Jones OBE, Chief Executive at relationship support charity, Relate said:
“This much-needed change to the law is good news for divorcing couples and particularly for any children involved. The outdated fault-based divorce system led parting couples to apportion blame, often resulting in increased animosity and making it harder for ex-partners to develop positive relationships as co-parents.”
The significant changes will mean that the grounds for divorce are entirely non-fault instead of a mix of both fault and non-fault, such as unreasonable behaviour.
Furthermore, the option for either spouse to contest the divorce has also been removed which means that there is now less chance of the divorce process descending into a long-protracted court battle.
Additionally, to bring the divorce application process up to date it is now an entirely digital process, removing the possibility for paper applications.
Key Reforms To The Divorce Law You Need To Know
Here is a summary of the key changes you need to know about the new no-fault divorce law:
- Couples can make a joint application for divorce
The first change is that divorce proceedings no longer have to be initiated by one partner alone. Instead, a couple can make a joint application. While that may seem like a technical measure, supporters of the new law argue that it removes an in-built imbalance that undermines attempts to split amicably.
- Minimum of 20 weeks cooling off period
The new law lays down a minimum allowable period of 20 weeks between the initial application and the conditional order, and another six weeks between the conditional and final orders. That means that even the smoothest divorce will take at least six months or more to complete, compared to about 4 months under the old process.
- Divorce can be granted without blame
The old list of five permissible ways to prove the breakdown of marriage has been replaced by a single mechanism. Now all that’s required is for at least one spouse to provide a legal statement to say the marriage has broken down irretrievably. This statement counts as conclusive evidence and cannot be contested by a spouse or the court.
- Removal of the ability to contest a divorce
Under the old divorce law, the person applying for a divorce needed to cite their spouse’s behaviour or use a period of separation as the reason for the divorce. Their spouse could contest those reasons and potentially prevent or delay a divorce. However, under the new no-fault divorce law, the ability to contest a divorce has been removed.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Do Both Parties Have To Agree To A No Fault Divorce?
It is no longer possible to submit a divorce application under the old divorce system, which means you no longer can or need to apportion blame or fault on your partner to start divorce proceedings.
Following the new divorce law which came into effect on 6th April 2022 in England and Wales, there is now very little a spouse can do to contest an unwanted divorce.
This welcome change means that domestic abusers will no longer be able to contest and ‘trap’ a spouse in an unwanted marriage for five years plus.
How Does No-Fault Divorce Work?
In June 2020, Parliament passed the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, which is now an act of Parliament.
The new law has retained the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage as the sole ground for divorce. However, the requirement to specify one of the five grounds for divorce is replaced with a ‘statement of irretrievable breakdown’ – thereby eliminating the requirement to administer any blame.
The basis of the new law remains the same: divorce is only possible when a marriage has irretrievably broken down. However, the definition of an irretrievable breakdown has expanded to include two key changes.
The new law now allows for a joint statement, again increasing the opportunities for a mutual split to avoid artificial imbalances.
The relevant laws on the dissolution of a civil partnership will also be updated. The idea is that broadly the same system and principles, complete with the no-fault declaration of irretrievable breakdown, will apply to both divorce and civil partnership dissolution.
How Much Does a No-fault Divorce Cost?
If the court fee stays the same, the minimum cost of getting a no-fault divorce will be £593. However, not everyone can do their own divorce and therefore, the average cost of a divorce is likely to be £772 – £1,500 even after the divorce law changes.
How Long Does a No-fault Divorce Take?
No-fault divorce is not some quickie divorce scheme designed to end a marriage instantly.
In fact, the new divorce law will actually take longer to complete than the previous divorce law.
The government has introduced a 20-week (minimum) reflection period and a further 6 week wait to end your marriage, which means in total, a no-fault divorce will take around 6 to 7 months to complete.
Can a No-fault Divorce be Contested?
Another key change to the divorce law means that a spouse cannot contest a divorce, which means that a divorce will now be granted by a Judge solely on the basis of the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
Why Did The Previous Divorce Law Need To Be Changed?
Under the previous system if you couldn’t or wouldn’t allege fault, you could only get divorced once you’ had been separated for two years if both spouses agreed to the divorce, or five years if one spouse refused. Therefore supporters of the changes argued that the previous system has several major flaws.
For example, if a couple wanted a quick divorce without delay, they had to agree between themselves as to who will “take the blame.”
Even though it was just a legal formality, working out who this should be and the details to present to the court could be an awkward and emotional process. It could even lead to resentment that spilt over into the negotiations about financial settlements and childcare.
Many couples also found that it simply wasn’t financially viable to live as two separate households for at least two years before starting divorce proceedings and formally reaching a financial settlement.
Another problem was where one spouse no longer wanted to be in the marriage but the other refused to accept it was over.
The high bar for proving unreasonable behaviour meant one spouse could often drag out the divorce process until not only had the other left the marital home, but five years had passed.
What Happens If My Ex-Partner Doesn’t Want To Divorce?
In the past, you would need to wait for a period of 5 years of separation to be granted a divorce if your ex-partner was unwilling to comply, unless you were happy to apportion blame.
Under the new divorce law, you can now file for divorce after 12 months of marriage regardless of whether your husband or wife agrees – providing that the marriage has broken down beyond repair.
Will No-fault Divorce Affect Financial Settlements?
Many divorcing couples still believe that if one spouse is proved to be at fault for the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage it can result in a better financial settlement for the “wronged” spouse. But for the most part, the actions of either spouse generally have no bearing upon the terms of a financial settlement.
This was the case under the old system and still remains the same.
Even where negotiations over finances ended up in court, the judge would rarely place any weight upon the fault of either party for causing the divorce.
Therefore, since fault for the irretrievable breakdown of marriage did not affect the terms of a financial settlement prior to the change of the rules, then removing the “fault” aspect of divorce under the new legislation, will not have any obvious effect on financial settlements in the future.
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