For the last 50 years, divorce law hasn’t changed much. In order to divorce your partner, you have to prove one ground for doing so: that the marriage has irretrievably broken down
This seems fairly reasonable, until you realise that in order to prove the ground, there are five facts you can rely on, most of which involve one blaming the other for the breakdown of the marriage. These are:
• Unreasonable behaviour
• Adultery (not available in civil partnerships)
• Desertion for two years or more
• Two years’ separation (but your spouse needs to agree to this)
• Five years’ separation without consent
For some time, this has been a somewhat controversial system: sometimes relationships simply don’t work anymore, and people don’t want to blame each other for wanting out. Further, the need for consent from the other person can be difficult, and there are cases where divorces have been contested by the party being blamed, making ending the marriage even more difficult than it needs to be.
The Divorce and Dissolution Act 2021 has been pushed back and is now set to come into force on 6 April 2022. The No-Fault Divorce process should drastically reduce the levels of acrimony and disagreement that are often part of the current system.
What is No-Fault Divorce and how does it differ from current legislation?
When No-Fault Divorce comes into force in April, the same ground of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage will still be relied upon, but you will no longer have to prove this with one of the five facts. There will also be the option to submit a joint application with your spouse, saying that you both wish for the marriage to end. For those making sole applications, the other spouse will no longer be able to oppose or contest the divorce.
Divorce is being updated in other ways too. The terms ‘Decree Nisi’ and ‘Decree Absolute’ are being replaced by ‘Conditional Order’ and ‘Final Order’ for the mid and final stages of the divorce, and the person applying for the divorce will now officially be known as the Applicant (rather than the Petitioner).
The time between the divorce petition being issued and the Conditional Order being applied for is being lengthened to 20 weeks, but there are still only six weeks between being able to apply for the Conditional Order and the Final Order that brings the marriage to an end. This is to ensure there is sufficient time for the parties to really consider what they want in order to proceed, and to reconcile if that is a possibility.
Financial and Child Arrangements
Divorce is just one part of ending the marriage: provisions for your and your spouse’s finances and any children you have are made separately and are not an automatic result of the divorce process. A separate application in relation to finances must be made in order to put an enforceable arrangement into place, as well as an application regarding children if you and your partner do not agree on how contact should work.
In summary, No-Fault Divorce promises an easier, less painful, and more collaborative way to end a marriage – and the changes it brings are long overdue in terms of the way people have been wanting to divorce for a long time.