Update on ‘No fault’ divorces

24 Jun 2020 | Sarah Scott

In the news recently, MPs backed a “no fault” divorce bill (Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill) that was making its way through the parliament. Both houses agreed on the bill and it had its third reading in the Commons on the 17 June 2020. It is now back before the House of Lords before receiving Royal Assent. However, the Lord Chancellor has indicated that couples hoping to rely on the new law will have to wait until at least Autumn 2021.

What changes will there be?

  • Rather than seeming to attribute blame through a behaviour, adultery or desertion petition (if the separation periods of 2 years with consent or 5 years don’t apply) a spouse will be able to apply for a divorce simply the basis that they state their view that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. In addition, if preferred then both parties can mutually apply providing a statement to detail the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. In either case the statement of irretrievable breakdown will be conclusive evidence that the marriage has broken down and so the opportunity to defend the divorce by disputing the alleged facts will be removed.
  • The terms are also changing in line with Civil Partnership terms, so Decree Nisi will become “conditional order” and Decree Absolute will become “final divorce order”.  The person making the application will be referred to as applicant rather than petitioner.
  • Whilst the process to divorce will become more streamlined (and arguably easier), there is a built in 6 month time frame to allow for reflection before the marriage is dissolved, ensuring that a “quickie divorce” remains, firmly, a myth.

It is thought that the changes will reduce the tension couples often feel during a divorce when they feel that they are being blamed for the breakdown of the marriage, especially when the parties have simply grown apart. From experience, clients often felt that the system forced them to make allegations they would rather not make, simply to reach the threshold required when basing the petition on the other party’s behaviour.

By removing this potential cause of conflict at the outset, the new process should pave the way for the parties to have amicable discussions regarding the issues that arise as a result of a divorce, namely financial issues and child arrangements which remain separate and isolated applications.

Sarah Scott, Divorce Lawyer


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