Comprehensive Guide to No Fault Divorce: Understanding the Changes

No fault divorce has finally arrived. Here’s everything you need to know, including how the divorce process has changed, how much it costs, and why it’s controversial.

No fault divorce came into effect in England and Wales on 6 April 2022.

This is the most significant change to divorce law since 1969 with big changes for the divorce process.

In this guide, we’ll explore:
  • The five ways that the divorce process has changed
  • The costs of no fault divorce
  • How no fault divorce affects dealing with finances
  • The arguments for and against no fault divorce

5 ways the divorce process has changed

The new divorce system is significantly different to the one it replaced on 6 April 2022.

Here’s how the divorce process has changed.

#1 Divorce can be granted without one spouse blaming the other

One of the most significant changes introduced by the new laws is the removal of the element of blame or ‘fault’ from the divorce process.

Under the previous laws, you had to prove your marriage has broken down by using one of the five grounds for divorce.

This is no longer the case.

Instead, all you need to do is provide a statement saying that you believe your marriage has broken down irretrievably.

This statement can’t be contested.

It’s hoped that the removal of blame will help to make the divorce process less bitter and more constructive for those going through it.  

#2 Couples can apply for divorce together

Under the new laws, couples can apply for divorce together.

Previously, one spouse had to start proceedings against the other.

The person who filed for divorce was called the petitioner, while the other was known as the respondent. This was the case even if the decision to get divorced was mutual.

Couples now have the option of applying for divorce together as joint applicants.  

The aim of the change is to allow the divorce process to start in a non-confrontational way.

If only one spouse applies for divorce, they’re now called the applicant. Their spouse will still be called the respondent.

#3 Some divorce terminology has been updated

Some of the divorce terminology has been updated to make it easier to understand.

Most notably, the two court orders – the decree nisi and the decree absolute - have lost their Latin names.

The decree nisi is now called the conditional order while the decree absolute is called the final order.

Meanwhile, the person who applies for divorce is now called the applicant, rather than the petitioner.

#4 Divorce will take a minimum of 26 weeks

Divorce under the new laws will take a minimum of 26 weeks.

A minimum period of 20 weeks has been introduced between the divorce application and when you can apply for the conditional order. You’ll then have to wait for a further six weeks before you can apply for the final order.

The 20 weeks waiting period has been introduced to counter suggestions that the new divorce process would make divorce too easy, leading couples to give up on their marriage too quickly.

Couples are encouraged to use the time to reflect on their relationship and work on their differences before committing to divorce.

#5 It’s no longer possible to contest a divorce

It’s no longer possible to contest a divorce.

Along with the removal of fault, this is one of the most significant aspects of the divorce reforms.

Under the old system, a spouse had the option to contest the divorce application if they didn’t agree to the divorce, or if they didn’t accept the reasons provided.

While the option to contest was rarely used (99% of divorce cases were uncontested), it had the potential to make life difficult when one spouse wanted a divorce while the other didn’t.

In most cases when a spouse contested the divorce application, it would make the divorce take longer and increase solicitor fees.

This was frustrating enough.

In some cases, however, a spouse could prevent the divorce from going ahead altogether, until the couple had been separated for several years.

The case of Tini and Hugh Owens was a high-profile example of this (and was itself a driver behind the push for no fault divorce).

This isn’t possible under the new system.

A statement made by either spouse (or both) is now considered conclusive proof that the marriage has broken down and can’t be contested.

How much does no fault divorce cost?

No fault divorce might be cheaper for some couples.

The £593 divorce application fee can now be paid jointly with your spouse, bringing the cost down to £296.5 each.

Furthermore, a contested divorce was one of the factors that made a divorce more expensive. With the option to contest now gone, it will reduce the cost for those who would otherwise have had a contested divorce.

However, the new divorce reforms haven’t changed the thing that affects the cost of divorce the most – the financial settlement.

Find out more in our guide: How much does a divorce cost?

Finances and no fault divorce

No fault divorce doesn’t affect your financial obligations to your spouse. So, it’s important to reach a financial settlement at the same time as the divorce. Otherwise, your spouse could make a claim against your estate.

The divorce reforms haven’t changed the existing process for dealing with finances in a divorce.

To separate your finances, you’ll need to get a financial consent order.

If you can’t agree with your spouse how to split your finances, you’ll need to get a judge to decide for you.

The no fault divorce debate

No fault divorce is the most significant reform to the divorce process since the 1969 Divorce Reform Act.

This act allowed couples to get divorced after two years separation if they both wanted a divorce, or five years if only one partner wanted a divorce.

In a sense, then, ‘no fault’ divorce has been possible since 1969. But only if a couple were willing to wait for at least two years.

In practice, many people who wanted a divorce didn’t want to wait. Instead, they would try to get an immediate divorce by citing one of the other grounds for divorce, like unreasonable behaviour.

What the new law does is make no fault divorce available immediately without having to make allegations against your spouse.

Many have welcomed the new system, from solicitors to women’s rights campaigners. But others have pushed back.

Here’s a look at some of the arguments for and against.

Arguments for no fault divorce

Supporters of the new divorce law will point to the removal of the element of blame as a positive step forward.

As well as making the divorce process less stressful, it’s hoped that couples will find dealing with finances and childcare arrangements easier now they’re not forced to point fingers at one another.

Removing the option to contest is also welcomed by supporters of the new laws.

A spouse that contested a divorce petition would make the divorce process much more complicated and expensive. They could even prevent the divorce from going ahead for several years.

The new laws will put a stop to this.

Under the new system, no one will ever have to stay in a marriage for any longer than they wish.

Arguments against no fault divorce

Arguments against no fault divorce range from practical concerns to moral questions.

The main concern is that making the divorce process easier will encourage couples to reach for divorce at the first opportunity instead of trying to work on their relationship.

This could result in marriages ending in divorce unnecessarily.

A related problem is that while divorce has been made simpler in some respects, the new laws haven’t changed the process for dealing with finances and children.

The worry is that people will rush towards the promise of an easy divorce without appreciating the difficulties of separating financially and making child arrangements.

Some opponents of no fault divorce also argue that it damages the institution of marriage.

Marriage, so the argument goes, is the cornerstone of family life and promotes social stability. Making it easier to get out of than a mobile phone contract doesn’t treat it with the respect that it deserves.

Talk to a divorce solicitor
If you have questions about divorce, you should talk to a family solicitor.

The Law Superstore connects you 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.