From April 2022, ‘no fault’ divorce will come into effect, removing the need for either spouse to take the blame or fault for the breakdown of the marriage.
No fault divorce was originally announced in February 2019 as a part of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020. The new rules concerning divorce were initially due to come into force in autumn 2021 but have been pushed back until April 6 2022.
Here we will deliver insight into no fault divorce, including what exactly no fault divorce is, why the current divorce rules are being amended, what the divorce rules are under The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, how the new no fault divorce process differs from the old divorce process and whether you should wait until April for no fault divorce.
What is no fault divorce?
No fault divorce will allow couples who wish to separate to end their marriage or civil partnership without placing blame or fault on the other person for the ‘irretrievable breakdown of the marriage’. This means that couples wishing to have an amicable divorce can do so, with the new rules even allowing for joint applications.
Why are the current divorce rules being amended?
The current divorce rules are set out under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, which means that there has been no change to the law for 49 years, making it old fashioned and in need of reform. This has been recommended by many experts, particularly after the high profile case of Tini Owens.
The current law means that blame for the irretrievable breakdown of the relationship has to be attributed to a single party. The problem with this is that, as times change, many people find themselves simply falling out of love or no longer having the same interests as their spouse. For that reason, an amiable separation is often preferred. Divorce isn’t always for a negative reason, and the current law doesn’t reflect that.
What are the current divorce laws?
Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, the Act states that there must be an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This must be proven by one or more of five facts, which are:
- Unreasonable behaviour – where the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with their spouse, this can be anything from lack of sexual relations to domestic abuse, there is no specified list addressing unreasonable behaviour.
- Adultery – this cannot be used as a fact in civil partnership dissolution as the infidelity must be with a member of the opposite sex. Same sex infidelity is instead classed as unreasonable behaviour.
- Desertion for at least 2 years – out of the last 2.5 years.
- Separation for at least 2 years – the respondent must agree to the divorce for it to be accepted.
- Separation for at least 5 years – the petitioner can apply without the respondent needing to approve.
How is no fault divorce different from the current divorce law?
There are many differences between the old divorce rules and the new rules that are set out under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020.
Some of the aspects due to change from April 6 are:
- The five facts used to prove the sole ground for divorce will be removed
- Fault or blame will be removed in divorce
- It will no longer be possible to contest a divorce, dissolution or separation
- Divorce petitions can be applied for solely or jointly
- The divorce language will be changed to modern English, such as
- ‘Decree Nisi’ will be replaced with ‘Conditional Order’
- ‘Decree Absolute’ will be replaced with ‘Final Order’
- ‘Petitioner’ will be ‘Applicant’
- There will be a 20-week minimum period from the divorce application to the ‘Conditional Order’
- The current six week time frame between the Conditional Order and the Final Order will remain
Should I wait for the law to change before getting a divorce?
The changes to divorce law in England and Wales come into effect in just under a month, but whether you should make the decision to pursue divorce immediately or hold on until April 6 completely depends on your personal circumstances.
Where you are certain you and your spouse will have an amicable divorce and that neither party will contest it, it could make more sense to start proceedings now so that no time is wasted.
However, there are certain situations where waiting for no fault divorce to come into effect is more sensible, especially where you are concerned about your spouse contesting the divorce. Waiting for no fault divorce means that they will be unable to oppose the divorce proceedings.