No fault divorce will finally be an option for separating couples in 2021, providing a more streamlined, less antagonistic method of dispute resolution by removing the element of blame from the process of divorce.
After years of campaigning for no fault divorce, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill received Royal Assent in June of this year, and will come into effect in the autumn of 2021.
Under current law, in order to get divorced in England and Wales, you must demonstrate your relationship has permanently broken down using one of the following grounds:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Separation for at least 2 years (if your spouse agrees to the divorce)
- Separation for at least 5 years (if your spouse disputes the divorce)
The current system works on the basis that blame lies with one party. Unless you are willing to wait for two to five years while living separately – something that may not be possible for couples who are relying on a financial settlement to get on with their lives – you must provide evidence that one party is to blame for the breakdown of your relationship. Even if couples agree that things have simply come to a natural end, they still have to officially state that one of them is at fault instead of being able to separate without animosity.
For some time, family law professionals and campaigners have raised concerns that this blame-based system is outdated and makes the process of separation unnecessarily antagonistic. The need to assign fault creates animosity and gets in the way of negotiations, affecting children and families by increasing the difficulty of dividing assets and arranging childcare. Furthermore, when a divorce petition is disputed, the current system means that individuals seeking separation are then stuck in an unhappy marriage for a further five years unless their spouse agrees.
The Divorce, Dissolution & Separation Act aims to alter and modernise divorce laws in the following ways:
- Removing blame: Parties will be able to simply state that their relationship has broken down to make an application for divorce, with no requirement to state one of the five above as grounds for divorce.
- Removing the ability to dispute to a petition: It will no longer be possible for one party to contest an application for divorce (unless their objection is based on legal validity, jurisdiction, fraud, coercion or procedure).
- Allowing couples to apply for a joint petition: As a new, collaborative measure, couples will be able to apply jointly for divorce, stating that they are in agreement that their relationship has broken down irrevocably – with no blame involved.
- Increased timeframe: The minimum time period required to finalise a divorce will be increased. There will be a minimum time period of 20 weeks from the date of the petition to the Conditional Divorce Order (previously known as Decree Nisi), and a further 6 weeks before individuals can apply for a Final Divorce Order (previously Decree Absolute). This is to reflect the reality that most divorces are not able to be finalised within 6 months, and provides a ‘cooling off period’ for couples to consider their decision.
The proposed changes are hoped to come into effect in autumn 2021, when couples will finally be able to apply for a ‘no fault divorce’.
Until then, there are several out of court options for couples who wish to separate as amicable as possible, including mediation, arbitration, and collaborative family law. Get in touch to speak to one of our family law solicitors and arrange a free 45-minute consultation to discuss your situation.