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No-fault divorce – everything you need to know

06 April 2022

Today, the landmark no-fault divorce law comes into effect in England and Wales. This means that divorcing couples no longer have to play the ‘blame game’ or provide evidence of their marriage breaking down.

This much-anticipated shift is the first change to divorce law in over 50 years and completely replaces the old system. Most significantly, the new law allows couples looking to reduce conflict to focus their talks on the things that matter, and concentrate on moving forward positively.

So, what’s new and how does no-fault divorce work?

As of 31 March 2022, you can now no longer file for a divorce under the old 1973 act.

Demonstrating that one spouse has behaved unreasonably or attributing a reason for the decision is no longer necessary. Instead, filing a divorce application confirms to the court that your marriage has irretrievably broken down.

Both parties can file an application jointly, or one party can file on their own, regardless of whether their spouse agrees or not.

A minimum period of 20 weeks from the issue of divorce proceedings has been introduced. This is designed for both parties to cool off, reflect and make arrangements (for children and finances, for example). After 20 weeks, a ‘conditional order’ can be applied for, and following this another minimum period of six weeks will apply before the ‘final order’ can be granted, formally dissolving the marriage.

What are the positives of no-fault divorce?

As the new system allows a divorce to proceed without needing to prove one of the previous ‘accepted’ reasons, such as adultery or unreasonable behaviour, positive and constructive negotiations can take place from a much earlier stage. This includes discussions on any children and finances, including business interests, pensions, properties and other assets.

Another benefit is that divorcing couples do not have to wait to apply for a divorce on a no-fault basis until they have been separated for two years, as has been the case until now.

It will also now not be possible for a party to contest an application once it is filed (unless there is lack of jurisdiction, invalidity of the marriage or coercion involved). This is good news, as it removes much of the worry, stress and expense for anyone who may be concerned about their spouse defending the divorce proceedings unnecessarily.

And the negatives?

There may be a period of adjustment and education on the new law required in some cases. No-fault divorce effectively removes many of the negative emotions that are wrapped up in divorce proceedings and this may not be welcomed by individuals who see getting a divorce as a way to ‘get back’ at their spouse.

How we can help

Regardless of your situation, it’s always worth seeking specialist advice if you’re considering a divorce. Everyone’s circumstances are different and while no-fault divorce has been designed to simplify proceedings, it’s important to receive tailored advice and guidance from a family law professional, especially when disagreements over children or finances are involved.

Email Sharon

Sharon Giles is a partner and head of our Legal 500-rated divorce & family law team. She actively promotes, and personally adopts, a conciliatory approach to family law disputes and specialises in complex financial matters often involving business interests, significant pension resources and/or properties and investments owned abroad.

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