For more than 50 years, we’ve had a fault-based divorce system. You can only get divorced if you or your spouse has done something wrong. There has to be someone to assign blame to in order to justify a decision to split.
But this is about to change.
In June last year, the government passed the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act.
This new law introduced 'no-fault' divorce to the UK. They say it will end the divorce ‘blame game’, and will be available from autumn 20201.
So, how will no-fault divorce help to reduce unnecessary conflict?
Replacing the ‘five facts’ with a statement of irretrievable breakdownThe new divorce law means you’ll be able to get divorced without you or your spouse being blamed.
Under the existing law, you need to show that your marriage has broken down by proving one of ‘five facts’.
You can only use two of these facts to get an immediate divorce. Both are to do with you or your spouse’s actions: adultery, or unreasonable behaviour.
Whilst there are a variety of actions that are considered under 'unreasonable behaviour', by citing these or adultery, you're automatically increasing conflict. It's likely you've had a significant number of arguments and discussions with your spouse about what has led you to this point - rehashing it all for the paperwork doesn't help anyone. For most people, it's not one thing that breaks down a marriage - it's a number of things that add up.
Putting all the blame on your spouse isn't usually helpful. They may feel attacked, and less likely to co-operate with the divorce process. Similarly, the current option to reference the person your spouse had an affair with if you cite adultery is only going to raise tensions and make the split more painful.
The no-fault divorce law will help to put an end to this blame game.
You won't need to blame your spouse for the breakdown of your marriage anymore. Instead, you’ll be able to get divorced by making a statement of irretrievable breakdown. After all, for some couples, divorce may be an earlier-than-expected ending to a fairly successful marriage - one where they want to remain friends, or co-parents. With more people getting divorced later in life, it's likely a divorced couple may still be in each other's lives regularly, with children, grandchildren or shared friends and family.
Most couples aim for an amicable divorce, one with minimal drama and heartache. And that's what the new no-fault divorce law will allow for.
There will be no need to say why you want to get divorced – the statement itself will be proof that your marriage is over.
The only thing that will matter is that you want to get divorced.
Removes the possibility of your spouse contesting the divorceThe no fault divorce law will stop your spouse from contesting the divorce.
Your spouse currently has the option of contesting your divorce petition. In theory, they could stop you getting an immediate divorce, like what happened in the Owens vs Owens case.
It’s unlikely that this would happen to you. But your spouse could slow your divorce down by contesting. Then you'd have to wait even longer before you could start moving on with your life.
In extreme cases, you could even end up fighting your spouse in court. It goes without saying that you’re unlikely to save your marriage by fighting court battles. And no one wants to be held hostage to a marriage they no longer feel invested in. That will only breed resentment, as well as wasting a significant amount of time and money.
The new divorce law will stop this happening by removing the option to contest. You’ll never have to stay married to someone any longer than you want.
Allows you to apply for divorce jointly with your spouseThe new no-fault divorce law will give you the option to apply for divorce jointly with your spouse.
So often, the decision to get divorced is one you reach together. But the existing law doesn't reflect this.
You can only start divorce proceedings by serving your spouse with divorce papers. By default, you become the ‘petitioner’ while your spouse becomes the ‘respondent’.
You’re set up as opponents, even when you both agree with the divorce. Instead of being two adults deciding to go your separate ways, one of you must be a victim, the other must be to blame.
This doesn’t help when you’re trying to split your finances, or make arrangements for your children.
We all know that marriages can break up for a perfectly innocent reason: you stop loving each other.
The no-fault divorce law recognises this by giving you the option to apply for divorce together.
Final thoughtsThe current way we go about divorce will always involve conflict. The system encourages it. You may have complex feelings of loss, guilt or anger at breaking a commitment, as well as fear around trying to secure the best possible future for yourself. None of these are made easier by a combative and complex divorce process.
The good news: the blame game is about to end.
No-fault divorce will give you the freedom to break up your marriage when it’s right for you. As a result, it will be easier for you to work with your spouse on building the next chapter of your lives apart, as well as protecting the things you both still care about, like your family, friends and home.
Divorce is not an easy decision to make, but when you do decide it's the right thing, the process should be as easy as possible.
If you’re thinking about divorce, you should still talk to a solicitor as soon as possible. The law change may take longer than expected to come in, and you want to be prepared for how the new systems will work.
The Law Superstore lets you connect with family solicitors across England and Wales. Just type in a few details to compare prices and connect with professionals who’ll guide you through the divorce process.
Update, 8 June 2021
No-fault divorce won’t be available for use until 2022, the government has admitted.
The implementation of the Divorce, Dissolution, and Separation Act has been delayed until 6 April 2020.
This will come as a blow to couples who have been putting off their divorce hoping to take advantage of the law change.
The reason for the delay appears to be issues with developing a digital service for the new divorce process.