On 6 April 2022, ‘No-Fault Divorce Law’ came into force, marking the biggest change to divorce law in decades. A year on, our lawyers reflect on how the new process has been received by clients and how its working in practice.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 was passed in June 2020 and paved the way for so called ‘No-Fault Divorce law’. The new law means that a couple can cite ‘irretrievable breakdown’ of a marriage by way of a joint statement or individually, and no longer need to cite one party as being to blame.
Prior to this change a couple would have to wait two years or the person petitioning the divorce would have to blame the other by selected from a pre-determined list of ‘faults’ including adultery or unreasonable behaviour. This often led to tension between couples and in the case of Owens, the husband rejected the divorce petition and a court decided that the behaviour being cited by the wife was not in fact unreasonable.
More on the process can be found in our podcast on this topic.
A more amicable divorce process
‘No-Fault Divorce’ was set to bring about a more amicable option for couples who wish to separate amicably. Carly Kinch comments:
“The removal of the requirement to ‘blame’ the other party is welcomed by most, if not all, clients. There are definitely some who feel they have been treated badly by their former spouse and who would have liked to have attributed blame as per the old system.”
Joint applications are in the minority
Perhaps surprisingly, joint applications to divorce are still in the minority. 69% of applications made or received by Stewarts since the introduction of the law have been sole applications. Richard Hogwood comments:
“The nervousness about a joint application appears to be the fear of the other party later slowing down or obstructing the process. This is unfounded; they cannot do so.”
Our lawyers have noted that most clients still like to ‘take control or ownership’ of the divorce by filing a sole application. A joint application is more of an administrative burden and this seems to be putting some couples off going down that route. Richard continues:
“Often one is keen for the other to do it either so that other psychologically feels they are the initiator or so they have to do the legwork with form-filling.”
The fact remains that joint applications are more burdensome, so it has to be something that the couple really wants for it to work.
Joint applications can help with international divorce
A joint petition is sometimes helpful where there is an international element and divorce papers need to be served on the other party in a very specific way according to another country’s rules. Filing jointly gets around the need to adhere to those rules as both parties have agreed to the proceedings making the process easier. Richard Hogwood commented:
“I had one recently where my client was going to be sole applicant but the couple eventually decided to do it jointly because it then avoided some complex issues around properly serving the other party in the Middle East which might otherwise have delayed the process.”
Has it gone wrong?
There are still teething issues with the new process. In one case, someone received divorce papers out of the blue. Jenny Bowden says:
“We have had an example of a client receiving divorce papers by way of an automated email, completely out of the blue, without any prior communication from their former partner. This would not have been able to happen under the previous rules.”
‘No-Fault Divorce’ is generally a welcome change to the law in England and Wales. It helps to modernise attitudes towards divorce and separation and takes some of the heat out of the process. Carly Kinch comments:
“I’m sure as lawyers and couples get used to the new arrangements and the idea of joint applications we’ll see them used more frequently. No-Fault Divorce does not make divorce easier or quicker, but it does help couples split more amicably where this is their wish. Not everyone will want to engage in this process with their former spouse, and in the absence of blame, may wish to take control of the process with an individual application. Sometimes this can be an important part of them moving forward with their lives. The key is that there is more choice now. So people can divorce their way.”
For more on the process of how to get a divorce, please click here.
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