No-fault divorce – one year (and a bit!) on

On behalf of Attwaters Jameson Hill posted in Family Law on Monday, August 21st, 2023

On 6 April 2022, one of the most anticipated pieces of legislation in recent years came into force: the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act, more commonly known as ‘no-fault’ divorce. It had long been felt by legal professionals and the general population that the UK’s divorce law was seriously outdated.

This was particularly highlighted by the highly publicised Owens v Owens Supreme Court case in 2018, where a wife unable to prove that her husband had behaved unreasonably had her divorce petition appeal dismissed by the UK’s highest court. Instead, Mrs Owens had to wait until five years had elapsed since their separation (in 2015), which was then a legal requirement where a) fault could not be proven and b) the other party did not consent to divorce.  

The end of fault-based divorce

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act changed the UK’s divorce (and civil partnership) laws in the following significant ways:

  • Couples no longer have to apportion blame or prove that their spouse has behaved unreasonably in order to get divorced
  • They no longer have to prove unreasonable behaviour using one of five fault-based ‘grounds’, removing some of the acrimony and hostility in divorce proceedings
  • Divorce can no longer be contested
  •  Couples can apply for divorce jointly, facilitating a helpful and collaborative approach to separation and co-parenting
  • The language of divorce has been simplified, e.g. ‘decree nisi’ and ‘decree absolute’ have been replaced with ‘conditional order’ and ‘final order’, respectively.

From then to now – what has changed?

Statistics show that in the first nine months of the new regime, there were 89,123 divorce and civil partnership applications, up from 77,449 during the same period in 2021. It is likely that at least some of this increase is due to couples ‘saving up’ their divorce application until after the new law had been introduced. Twenty-two percent of the 2022 petitions were from joint applicants.

Another change we have seen is the enormous digitalisation of divorce. Although the option of divorcing online has been available to couples since 2018, in 2019 just 10% of couples chose the digital route. This figure was 94% in 2022.

However, it must be stressed that although the online approach is considered an easier, cheaper and do-it-yourself option, it only deals with ending a marriage or civil partnership, without consideration for your financial situation or child arrangements.

Understanding when you need a solicitor

As specialist divorce solicitors who witnessed first-hand the emotional trauma and stress caused by the fault-based system, we are delighted that couples are finding the new regime easier and less acrimonious.

Where there are complex financial arrangements to unpick or questions surrounding child custody, however, it remains vital to get a solicitor involved. Without legal support, you may not be aware of your various entitlements (for example, you may be entitled to spousal maintenance or a share in your spouse’s pension) and you could also leave yourself open to future financial claims against you. A solicitor can help you reach an agreement that is suitable for both parties and meets their financial requirements both now and in the future. They can also help you apply for a consent order, which will make any financial and child arrangements legally binding, thus ensuring that your ex-spouse will not be able to make any further claims against you.

If you have children with your ex-partner, a solicitor will also be able to ensure that any agreements reached are in your children’s best interests and minimise any stress or trauma they may experience.

Empathy and understanding

No matter how easy the legal process has become, divorce is still an emotional and difficult time for many couples. There will inevitably be a grieving process as you say goodbye to your marriage and look ahead to a new and different kind of life.

At Attwaters Jameson Hill, we are here to guide you through your divorce process and support you to reach an agreement that puts you in the best position to move on with your life with confidence. We can also advise you on your funding options to help you manage your costs.

For professional legal support with your divorce, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our empathetic and understanding team on 0330 221 8855 or email familylaw@attwaters.co.uk.

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