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Family Law

How To Get A No Fault Divorce

Separating couples can now divorce without having to blame each other for no reason under new no fault divorce rules. Find out more here...

How To Get A No Fault Divorce

Updated: 30 September 2022

Divorces At Their Highest For A Decade

Divorce applications in England and Wales are now at their highest level in a decade (up 22%) after the law was amended earlier this year to remove blame from the process.

There were 33,566 divorce applications from April 2022 to June 2022, according to latest data from the Ministry of Justice. Most of the applications were under under the new 'no fault divorce' legislation; 78% were from sole applicants.

The rise may have been the result of people already planning to divorce holding off until the new law took effect. Under the old law, there were 19,758 decree absolutes in April to June, a 35% fall on the same period last year.

When No Fault Divorce Became Legal

Separating couples can now finally divorce without having to blame each other for no reason. No fault divorce became available from 6 April 2022.

This long-overdue change – as part of the new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 – represents the biggest shake-up in divorce law in nearly half a century.It has been a long time coming. Royal Assent was granted on 25 June 2020. Implementation had been due in autumn 2021 but was delayed so all the necessary changes to family procedure rules could take place.

Why No Fault Divorce Was Needed

Under the old rules, there was only one ground for divorce – irretrievable breakdown of the marriage – based on one or more of five specific facts:

  • adultery
  • unreasonable behaviour
  • desertion
  • two years’ separation with consent
  • five years’ separation without consent.

Inevitably, relationships are more complex than this. Your reason for splitting up may not fall into one of these limited categories. You may have simply fallen out of love or grown apart. But the law stipulated that you still had to pick one of the five reasons if they applied to you.

Now that has changed…

What Has Changed Under No Fault Divorce

Now you no longer need to make allegations against your spouse or civil partner in order to get a divorce or dissolution.

The single ground for divorce (irretrievable breakdown) remains. But you’ll no longer have to allege one or more of the five facts to support it. Family law solicitors had been campaigning for this change for years to help take some of the acrimony out of divorce.

The old law made the whole thing more stressful than it needed to be. To get divorced, you had to either wait a minimum of two years (but then divorce only if your spouse agreed to it) or allege that your partner had either committed adultery or behaved unreasonably. Either that or claim that they’d deserted you (but this was rarely cited) or that you had been separated for a period of five years.

None of this was conducive to ending the marriage or civil partnership quickly or amicably. Especially if you weren’t the one initiating the divorce. Being on the receiving end of unfounded allegations inevitably made the breakdown in a relationship all the more emotionally distressing.

No fault divorce helps to remove conflict from the process. This is also likely to greatly benefit the children who can get caught up in the parental conflict. Their needs are always the main priority for the family courts.

How The No Fault Divorce Process Works

If you and your spouse agree that your relationship can’t be saved, then you can jointly apply to the court to get divorced. Or one person can apply singly.

Next, you both have to wait…

There’s a minimum period of 20 weeks between issuing the application and the first stage of the divorce. This gives both parties time to reflect and decide whether they really want to end their marriage or civil partnership.

Is There A Catch?

No fault divorce is not a magic wand. While this change in the law is extremely welcome, it would be unrealistic to hope that can it remove all the conflict from the process.

Getting divorced or dissolving a civil partnership involves two distinct and separate legal processes:

  1. The divorce/dissolution – the legal ending of your marriage/partnership
  2. Resolving the finances – dividing up the assets and liabilities that accrued during the marriage/partnership.

And in our experience as family lawyers, many couples’ biggest arguments occur in the second stage. People argue over property, money and possessions (particularly those of great sentimental value). If one or both parties refuse to compromise, then some of those arguments can become long, counter-productive and costly.

You can’t rely on no fault divorce to solve that for you (though removing blame at the earlier stage is always helpful). It is the responsibility of you and your former partner to agree who gets what. Fail to do so and you may end up in contested proceedings in the family court…where a judge will decide for you.

The alternative is mediation which works well. It keeps the case out of court, so you stay in control. You take all the decisions, not the court. Everyone benefits – including your children; mediation reduces the stress involved because it is less acrimonious.

Further Reading

Get Expert Legal Advice On Divorce And Dissolution

Contact Coles Miller Associate Senior Family Lawyer Lindsey Arnold for expert and sympathetic legal advice on divorce, civil partnership dissolution, separation, children matters, resolving finances and change of name.

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