No-fault divorce: Your questions answered

April 2022 marked an important moment in family law, (as was widely covered in print and TV media) with the introduction of no-fault divorces. Following a 12-week public consultation which showed widespread support, 71% of those polled agreed that no-fault divorce was urgently needed to protect the long-term interests of children. (Source: Resolution)

Ministers announced on 7 June 2021 that the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 would come into force on 6 April 2022. The bill which gained Royal assent on 26 Jun 2020, ended years of campaigning to remove the need to blame one of the parties when seeking to divorce.

Couples no longer have to prove that their partner is at fault before ending the marriage. The same no-fault rule applies to the dissolution of civil partnerships. The new law removes the ability of a spouse to contest the divorce in court, and separated couples are now able to rely on the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage as the sole ground for divorce, without having to make inflammatory allegations. This allows for a more constructive approach to separation.

Topics to be answered in this article

What is no-fault divorce?

No-fault divorce allows parties to mutually agree that the marriage has broken down and issue proceedings without blaming the other party. In previous divorce proceedings, if couples had not been separated for a period of two years or more, one party had to rely on adultery or behaviour, therefore encouraging one party to blame the other.

The introduction of no-fault divorce takes away the blame that caused so many added difficulties and distractions when parties separated, and caused unnecessary animosity.

Removing blame encourages parties to avoid unnecessary conflict and promote positive ongoing relationships between them, which will benefit any children involved. No-fault divorce is a significant step forward to encouraging parties to focus on a less confrontational, non-litigious way of reaching divorce finance settlements and discussing custody arrangements for children.

Related reading: The pros and cons of a DIY divorce.

What are the key differences?

Under the new system, separating couples can apply for the divorce on a sole or joint basis. By allowing parties to apply on a joint basis, one party will no longer be ‘divorcing the other’ and formalising the separation can be viewed as a more mutual, even amicable process. 

Alternatively, one party can apply alone, if the other does not agree to the divorce, but the party in disagreement will not be able to defend the proceedings. This is a welcome change and in most cases, will cause less stress and worry about attending a court hearing. Associated costs will be lower too. However, please seek advice if there are issues concerning the validity of the marriage jurisdiction because some legal challenges may still apply.

How long does a no fault divorce take?

There is a 20-week timescale between the issue of the divorce petition and the first stage of the divorce – the conditional order –  to provide a reflection period. This is followed by a 6 week timescale between conditional order and final order, which formally brings the marriage or civil partnership to an end. The process will therefore take a minimum of six months and will not be quicker than the previous system, despite being more streamlined. However, this time is useful as there are many aspects that are important to think about when separating. The six-month period allows reflection for divorcing couples, not only to consider any possible reconciliation but also to address other issues that may have arisen.

In the event a couple do want to reconcile there will be the ability to withdraw the petition at any time, something which under the previous system was complicated and potentially expensive.

There are no changes to court fees, and our fee estimates remain the same as per the previous system.

How do I apply for a no fault divorce?

You can apply for a no fault divorce online, using the government website. You will need some basic documentation, such as your original marriage certificate or a certified copy, full name and address of both parties, and proof of any name change. The application made by an individual is served on the other person in the relationship, who has to confirm receipt within 14 days. Joint applications can also be made, which a couple submit together.

What else do I need to think about?

No-fault divorce is undoubtedly a significant step for separating couples and reflects the biggest changes to the divorce system since 1973.

However, whilst the focus on a more amicable and streamlined divorce process is welcomed it is extremely important for separating couples not to overlook other matters, particularly finances. In principle, the process of securing a financial settlement is separate to the divorce process, and therefore the new system should not automatically change the likelihood of a fair financial settlement being achieved. The period of reflection affords parties time to focus on reaching a fair financial settlement and the importance of this cannot be underestimated.

Similarly, separating couples need to discuss and seek child custody lawyers for any arrangements involving children moving forward and perhaps consider setting those arrangements out in a parenting plan.

There are many factors which you need to consider before commencing divorce and family law proceedings and it is important you consider advice from a specialist family solicitor.

How can Goughs help?

If you would like to speak to one of us about no-fault divorce and what this means in practice, or any other family related matters, please contact our specialist family solicitors.

We also offer a free 30 minute consultation with a family lawyer, providing you direct access with one of our professional family law specialists. Complete the form below or email to get in touch.

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Author Bio

Alice Blackmore

I qualified as a Solicitor in October 2016 and previously worked at a firm in Plymouth before moving to Bath. I joined Goughs in January 2020 and was promoted to Associate in April 2021 then Senior Associate in April 2023. I am a member of the Family Law Panel and I am experienced in dealing with all areas of family law including disputes involving children, divorce, separation, finances, and cohabitation.

I have frequently assisted clients with Non-Molestation Orders and Occupation Orders. I regularly attend court in relation to disputes involving children and domestic abuse issues to represent clients. These are areas that I have a particular interest in. I also have close links with domestic abuse organisations in the local area and am a member of The Family Law Panel’s Green Phone Scheme initiative.

I am a Resolution member and an active member of YRes. Resolution promotes trying to resolve matters in a constructive and non-confrontational way. I pride myself on encouraging parties, where possible, to resolve matters in an amicable way and to put the needs of any children first to ensure they make positive decisions.

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