No Fault Divorce – In Law Since 6th April 2022
What is the no fault divorce bill?
The no fault divorce bill has been many years in the making and was first introduced to Parliament on 13 Autumn 2015 under the 10-minute rule – where an MP has 10 minutes to make their case for a new bill.
Since then various stages have started and been completed but delays have been caused by two general elections, Brexit and Covid-19. On 17th June 2020, MPs debated the final stages of the no-fault divorce, dissolution and separation bill and it passed the third and final reading in Parliament. And many people who work in family law were excused for letting out a large sigh of relief.
On 25th June the bill was granted royal assent at 6.08pm – this was expected as no bill has been refused royal assent since 1708 (the Scottish Militia Bill for those interest in history). The divorce bill is now, finally, an act.
The implementation of the bill came into effect on 6th April 2022. You have not been able to divorce under the old divorce laws since 31st March 2022.
What were the old divorce laws?
Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 there was only one reason for a divorce – the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. There were then 5 grounds to prove this:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Two-year separation with consent
- Five-year separation
Many people used to think the divorce could be granted on ‘irreconcilable differences’ – but that was not a ground you could use. These grounds will no longer be used.
When will the no fault divorce become law?
The no fault divorce has now come into law. Since 31st March 2022, you have not been able to use any of the above previous grounds for divorce. Anyone divorcing after 6th April 2022, will have used the new no fault divorce law to do so.
How long does no fault divorce take?
There is a compulsory wait of 20 weeks between when you petition for the divorce and when you will be granted a conditional divorce order. So if you apply on the 6th April 2022, you will have a conditional order on the 24th August 2022 – in theory. In practise due to the number of people waiting for the new law to come into effect, processing times may well extend this timescale.
Once you have the conditional order, you can file your financial consent order with the court, if you are having one. Once this is sealed (agreed) by the court you can apply for your final divorce order. But there needs to be a 6 week period between the conditional order and the final divorce order. So if you are not having a consent order, or you consent order is quickly agreed by the court, then you could apply for the final order on or after 6th October 2022 using the above dates.
If everything therefore runs smoothly and there are no other issues, the minimum length of time to get a divorce now will be six months. Since the new law has come into effect the average time for a divorce to be processed from application to final divorce order is 8 months.
How do I file for a divorce under no fault divorce?
To file for a divorce you usually have 3 options:
- File yourself using the government portal
- Use a solicitor to file the paperwork for you
- Use an online divorce service
Remember that this is just to start the divorce part of the process. The parenting and financial arrangements will normally need to be agreed separately to this part.
Did You Know? Mediate UK offer fixed fee divorce and mediation or consent order and mediation legal packages. We can even help when you have an agreement reached between you and just need someone neutral and knowledgeable to sense-check it with our divorce facilitation packages. It just helps you budget and control costs easier.
If we apply jointly for a divorce are there any risks?
Jointly applying for a divorce is a nice way to say, “We have both decided to end the marriage and want to do so together.” However the new law does not change the fact that a solicitor can only act for one of you in any child or financial arrangements. So you may need to instruct separate solicitors for this part or use family mediation instead.
You also need to consider what would happen if one of you changes their mind about the divorce or is not happy with how the discussions on child or financial arrangements are going and then pulls out of the joint divorce process. But the new law does allow joint applications and many clients have done this and reported back positives in regards to how they viewed the process.
How much does a no fault divorce cost?
The court fees are currently £593 for a divorce petition and, having recently increased in price, we do not believe will be going up again in the near future. So a no fault divorce is not cheaper than the previous method, but as it cannot be contested, it could save thousands of pounds if the decision to divorce was not mutual or accepted by both of you.
What does the no fault divorce bill change?
The bill primarily removes the need to show your spouse has been unreasonable, committed adultery or wait for two to five years to prove an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.
In addition to this, the bill will:
- Allow one spouse to say that the marriage has irretrievably broken down without the risk of that assertion being challenged by their spouse
- Spouses can make a joint application for divorce
- The divorce has a minimum wait of 20 weeks between application and conditional divorce and a further 6 week to the final divorce order
- Various parts of the terminology are being bought up to date, so the term ‘decree nisi’ and ‘decree absolute’ are being replaced with ‘conditional divorce order’ and ‘final divorce order’.
What are the advantages of the no fault divorce bill?
- Domestic abusers will not be able to contest and ‘trap’ a spouse in an unwanted marriage for five years plus
- It reduces conflict in a divorce situation, which is better for the families as a whole
- Parents are not having to blame each other so helps keep things amicable for their ongoing parenting relationship after divorce
- It better reflects modern society and views – not having to force one party to blame the other to get a divorce
- Reduces the compulsory time to wait for a divorce to 6 months – instead of having to wait 2 or 5 years. This allows couples to move on with their lives quicker and reduce ongoing conflict
- Allows amicable divorce companies, such as Mediate UK, to avoid the façade of asking clients to come up with grounds of behaviour considered unreasonable, instead they can both simply agree they want to file for a divorce together.
Can the Divorce still go ahead if I dont agree to it?
Yes. An individual can still make a divorce application, even if the other party does not agree. With the new law, the need to to lay fault or blame on the other party has been removed. And as such, you can get divorced solely on the basis that the marriage has broken down. There is very little you can do to contest an unwanted divorce after 6th April 2022, unless there have been procedural errors in the application – which is rare.
If your spouse no longer wants to be in a relationship with you, then take a look at our blog the ‘7 steps to achieve a perfect divorce’. The first step of which is to discuss, with the help of a marriage counsellor if need be, how you both feel and if the marriage is retrievable. This can set the right tone to help you both move on with your lives.
What happens about the parenting arrangements and finances?
These are separate areas of your divorce and are not covered under the no fault divorce law. You will need to reach an agreement on how you are going raise your children whilst living separately and also agree on a fair division of your assets and any ongoing payments.
You have 11 ways to reach an agreement. If you are struggling to reach an agreement amicably between yourselves, then take a look at our blog here which goes through each option. You may try several of these methods, but you are likely to finalise an agreement through one of these options.
If you are struggling to agree between yourselves, family mediation is the next logical step as it is a pre-requisite for going to court for a decision in most cases. But there are also other options outside of court if mediation breaks down or is not suitable for your situation.
My spouse committed adultery. Why can I not divorce for this reason?
The no fault divorce law is replacing the previous grounds used for divorce, of which adultery was one. Under the previous law, you had to have petitioned within 6 months of discovering the adultery and give details of where and when it took place, if known – and whether the adultery was continuing. You could have lived separately for many years and started a new relationship and still be committing adultery under the old rules.
In addition to this, if your spouse had a sexual relationship with a member of the same sex or was intimate with another person, but did not have sexual intercourse, then you could not use the ground of adultery. Whilst in theory you could name the other party to the adultery, this was rare and the court did not advise doing so, unless in exceptional circumstances. The law was simply out of date and did not reflect modern times.
The reason for the divorce, or who was to blame for the marriage ending makes no difference to any order the court may be required to make on child arrangements or finances. So there was little tangible benefit to the old law.
No Fault Divorce Conclusion
There are three parts to consider for most divorces:
- The legal process. To end the marriage under law and change your status from married to divorced.
- The Child Arrangements. How will you raise your children whilst living separately?
- The Financial Settlement. How will you both meet your future needs from the assets and incomes you have between you?
The no fault divorce law deals purely with the first part – the legal process to undo the marriage and enable you to get divorced. It is an important change in the law and should enable a more amicable start the divorce process, which will hopefully make sorting out the child and financial arrangements easier. It is these two parts after all that will make the most impact on you and your families’ life moving forwards.
In five year’s time, the reason for the divorce will matter far less than where you are living, how your children are being raised and how much happier you are now.
No Fault Divorce Law – One Year On
As we approach the one year anniversary of the no fault divorce law, it is a good chance to reflect on the changes and whether they have had the desired income. We can also look at the concerns raised about the law and whether these have proven valid.
At Mediate UK we have seen a reduction in the number of clients requesting solicitors process the actual divorce paperwork for them. This is partly due to the Government’s new online divorce portal and also the fact that grounds for divorce are no longer needed or required. So the actual divorce process has become easier to do and manager by yourself. However around the same time that the divorce process was made simpler, the process for getting a financial order was made more complicated, with the application for a financial consent order increasing from 6 to 23 pages. (See our blog here for the most popular options to get a financial consent order).
Alongside this, parents still need to work together to come up with child arrangements for their children. And these arrangement can be just as challenging as agreeing the finances between you both. The no fault divorce law has not changed this – but by removing the need for blame for the actual divorce, or having to wait several years before you can get divorced, discussions on the topics are getting off to a better, less contentious start – overall.
According to The Ministry of Justice statistics, there were 62,155 divorce applications under the new no fault divorce law between April 2022 and September 2022. approximately a quarter of them (22.5%) were from joint applicants as described above. This is up almost 20% on the same 6 month period as the previous year. Although it should be taken into account that many couple were waiting for the new no fault divorce law to come into effect before they submitted their application – so the increase is not perhaps as high as previously believed, and couples are not just getting divorced because it is now easier to do so as was the concern.
If you have questions on how to get the process started and where family mediation fits in to the divorce process, you can book a FREE 15-minute consultation with our team. Just click here to book in your free consultation.
It is important to recognise and credit the consistent and determined work carried out by Resolution over many years to get this law changed and implemented.
This Ultimate Guide to the No Fault Divorce Law has been produced by Ali Carter from Mediate UK.
Ali is the Founder of MediateUK Ltd and has previously been through a divorce himself. He has helped in over 6000 divorce or separations since 2011.