No-fault divorce law to come into effect from autumn 2021

The long-awaited ‘no-fault divorce’ bill has been passed through parliament and will be introduced as law from autumn 2021. The bill aims to modernise the current law by allowing couples to get a divorce or civil partnership dissolution without having to assign blame to one person for the breakdown of the relationship.

The news has been much welcomed by campaigners after the government first announced the new law in 2018. One of the catalysts behind the move to shake-up current divorce laws was the case of Tini Owens, a woman who was denied a divorce from her husband of 40 years because he contested the separation. The law stated that she must live separately from her husband for five years before she is able to legally end her marriage, a move that the Supreme Court justices made with “no enthusiasm whatsoever”.

The current divorce law

Under the current divorce law, which has not changed since 1973, those applying for a divorce must provide one or more of the following five reasons or ‘facts’;

  • Adultery – your spouse has had sexual intercourse with someone else of the opposite sex
  • Unreasonable behaviour – for example, verbal and physical abuse, drunkenness or drug-taking
  • Desertion – your spouse has left you for at least 2 years prior to you applying for divorce
  • Separated for at least 2 years – both you and your spouse must agree to this in writing before applying
  • Separated for at least 5 years – you can apply for this even if your spouse disagrees

Essentially, the current system is in part fault-based and requires one person to make an accusation about their spouse’s behaviour. If the couple isn’t able to place blame, then they must wait up to two years living separate lives before they are able to legally dissolve the marriage. If one partner contests the divorce, then the couple has to go to court for an independent decision by a judge or live separately for a minimum of five years.

The current law increases the risk of growing animosity between couples when blame must be placed on one person, even if they originally separated amicably. This has adverse effects on mental health and also on the wellbeing of any children of divorcing couples.

What are the new changes to divorce law?

The new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill will introduce a number of changes to the current divorce law. They include:

  • Replacing the requirement to provide evidence of a ‘fact’ (e.g. adultery), with a statement of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage
  • Introducing the option of a joint application for divorce
  • Removing the option to contest a divorce
  • Introducing a minimum period of six months from petition to the final divorce
  • The modernisation of terminology: ‘Decree Nisi’ will become a ‘Conditional Divorce Order’ and ‘Decree Absolute’ will become a ‘Final Divorce Order’.

What does this mean for divorcing couples?

The new reforms to divorce law will allow couples to separate amicably, ending the so-called ‘blame game’ and making the process easier both emotionally and financially. The new changes will allow separating couples to:

  • Reduce conflicts and animosity as it will no longer be required to place blame on one person, which is beneficial for any children of the relationship
  • Avoid lengthy waits to separate and the legal fees that are incurred, as the option to contest a divorce will be removed and couples who don’t want to place blame will no longer have to separate for two years prior to applying for divorce
  • Take the time to reflect on their decision and to make any financial and child arrangements

When should I apply for divorce?

If you have come to the decision that your marriage has irretrievably broken down, then it is advisable to apply for divorce now, rather than wait for the new law to come into force. We understand how emotionally challenging divorce can be, particularly when you must assign blame to one person, but the vast majority of divorces are processed without any major problems.

The breakdown of a relationship is not easy, but we can provide specialist advice and support to ensure that your divorce is processed as quickly and as straightforward as possible.

For tailored legal advice on divorce and civil partnership dissolution, please get in touch with our Staffordshire solicitors in Stafford and Rugeley.