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'No-fault' divorce to come into effect in autumn 2021

From autumn 2021, separating couples will no longer have to blame each other for the breakdown of their marriage or civil partnership. The long-awaited option for a ‘no-fault’ divorce is included in the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, first announced in 2018 and currently on course to receive Royal Assent.

The new reforms aim to bring divorce into the 21st century and to put an end to the ‘blame game’. Under the new law, couples who wish to separate will no longer have to prove that their relationship has irretrievably broken down in order to do so.

The hope is that by removing blame, couples can avoid unnecessary conflict, making divorce and separation faster, less costly and more amicable.

Why is divorce law changing?

Under the current law, separating couples must provide one of the following five reasons or ‘facts’ to prove that their relationship has irretrievably broken down:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion – for at least two years out of the past two and half years prior to applying for divorce
  • Separation for at least two years – both spouses/civil partners must agree to this in writing
  • Separation for at least five years

Currently, to start divorce proceedings, one spouse has to bring a petition on the grounds that the other spouse has committed adultery, has deserted them or has exhibited unreasonable behaviour. This excludes marriages where there was no conflict and the couple have naturally drifted apart. In cases like this, assigning blame to one spouse can sometimes cause animosity and make what is already a challenging time even harder.

The case of Owens vs Owens in 2018 highlighted the need for a change to the law. Tini Owens applied for a divorce from her husband of 40 years which he contested. In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court upheld a decision to deny her the divorce as there was insufficient evidence of unreasonable behaviour from her husband.

The decision left Mrs Owens trapped in a “loveless and desperately unhappy marriage” until she and her husband had been separated for five years and she was allowed to apply for a divorce again.

How is the law changing?

The new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill will:

  • Remove the requirement to provide reasons or ‘facts’ to show that the relationship has irretrievably broken down
  • Introduce the option for separating couples to make a joint application for divorce
  • Remove the possibility to contest a divorce
  • Modernise terminology e.g. 'Decree nisi’ will be changed to a ‘Conditional Order’ and ‘Decree Absolute’ will become a ‘Final Order’
  • Introduce a minimum period of 20 weeks from the initial proceedings until a conditional order of divorce has been granted

How will these changes affect divorcing couples?

The new law will allow couples to focus on separating amicably and avoid conflicts, which can make the process less stressful, costly and time-consuming. The new changes will:

  • Remove the ‘blame game’ by allowing couples to make a joint petition for divorce without making accusations about each other’s conduct during the marriage.
  • Stop couples being stuck in a loveless and unhappy marriage by removing the possibility of contesting a divorce. This also stops domestic abusers having further coercive control over their victims.
  • Allow couples time to reflect on their decision and whether the marriage can be reconciled. If not, it gives couples time to make practical arrangements for finances, childcare and living arrangements for the future, allowing them both to move forward amicably.

Applying for divorce

The new law will not come into effect until autumn 2021, so if you are considering divorce, it is advisable to apply now rather than wait. Getting divorced can be a stressful and emotional time, however most divorces proceed without any difficulties and only a small percentage are contested.

Our lawyers have a modern approach to family law issues and are committed to resolving disputes in a sensitive, constructive and cost-effective way. If you need advice or support about divorce or civil partnership dissolution, get in touch with one of our family lawyers today by filling in our online enquiry form.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.
Although correct at the time of publication, the contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article. Please contact us for the latest legal position.