Separating couples in England axnd Wales will soon be able to end their relationship without having to blame one another, thanks to the long-awaited introduction of no-fault divorce.
The changes will come as a part of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act which is on course to be implemented in Autumn 2021. The intention is for the Act to help reform the outdated divorce process, where couples are forced to prove that their relationship has irretrievably broken down.
The hope is that no-fault divorce will encourage a more constructive approach to separation which better reflects the reasons couples choose to end their relationship.
Why is no-fault divorce being introduced?
The current law in England and Wales stipulates that couples who want to get a divorce or civil partnership dissolution can only do so if they can prove that their relationship has irretrievably broken down.
However, that can only be the case if a couple is able to prove that one or more of the following reasons apply to their situation:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Adultery (not available for civil partnership dissolution)
- Desertion for at least 2 years
- Separation for at least 2 years with consent
- Separation for at least 5 years without consent
Of course, this presents an issue for couples who have simply drifted apart or want a fresh start. Having to search for a reason to separate can lead to avoidable conflict and unnecessary animosity between both parties, particularly when neither party is willing to accept any sort of blame for the failure of the relationship.
What will change going forward?
There are a number of proposals included in the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act that will change the way divorces work in England and Wales.
These changes include:
- Removing the need for couples to provide reasons to demonstrate their relationship has irretrievably broken down
- Introducing the option for separating couples to make a joint application for divorce or dissolution
- Removing the option to contest a divorce or dissolution
- Changing the terminology surrounding divorce:
- ‘Decree nisi’ will be changed to a ‘Conditional Order’
- ‘Decree Absolute’ will become a ‘Final Order’
- The ‘Petitioner’ will become the ‘Applicant’
- Introducing a minimum period of 20 weeks from the initial proceedings until a Conditional Order of divorce has been granted
What will the changes mean for separating couples?
The proposals will prove to be beneficial for a number of reasons:
- The ‘blame game’ will be removed from the divorce process. As couples will be able to make a joint application, there will be an emphasis on keeping everything as amicable as possible which will make the process more productive
- Joint applications mean that neither party has to be the ‘respondent’, which some feel, by its very nature, puts them at fault
- Neither party will be able to contest a divorce (other than in very rare circumstances such as fraud), which means that no one will be forced to remain in a marriage they wish to leave. It also restricts that control domestic abusers have over their victims
- Couples will have more time to reflect on their decision to separate and the likely consequences. If they decide to go ahead with the divorce, keeping the situation amicable will also provide more opportunities to make arrangements for finances, children and maintenance payments
Will couples still need a solicitor for a no-fault divorce?
While the divorce process will certainly be much simpler when no-fault divorce has been introduced, couples will still need the support and advice of an expert divorce solicitor to ensure that everything goes ahead smoothly.
Getting a divorce will still be a life-changing decision and, as such, there will be a wide range of complex arrangements that need to be handled. Seeking legal advice at the earliest opportunity will therefore be the most sensible approach.
Equally, if you are currently considering a divorce or civil partnership dissolution and are unsure whether to wait until no-fault divorce is introduced, you should still seek the advice of a solicitor as soon as possible.
At Stephen Rimmer, our experienced divorce solicitors are able to provide tailored legal advice and sympathetic personal support to help you through the entire divorce and separation process.