No fault divorces will be available from 6 April 2022, a government minister has confirmed.

This is a delay from the originally announced timeframe of autumn 2021, when the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 (which introduces no fault divorce) was expected to come into effect.

The admission that no fault divorce would be delayed was made my courts minister Chris Philp MP in a written response to a parliamentary question from Jane Stevenson, the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton North East. This comes almost a year since the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 was passed.

Philp said: “The Ministry of Justice is committed to ensuring that the amended digital service allows for a smooth transition from the existing service which has reformed the way divorce is administered in the courts and improved the service received by divorcing couples at a traumatic point in their lives.

“Following detailed design work, it is now clear that these amendments, along with the full and rigorous testing of the new system ahead of implementation, will not conclude before the end of the year.”

Philp suggested the extra time being taken to bring the new rules changes in would be used to improve signposting for couples to direct them towards divorce mediation for resolving the division of assets and arrangements for children in divorce.

Why is no fault divorce being introduced?

Many in the legal profession have long felt that existing divorce laws were out of date, with the potential to introduce unnecessary conflict to divorce proceedings. In particular, the need to assign ‘blame’ for the divorce when filling out a divorce petition, if the parties have been separated for less than 2 years.

Under current rules, the person filling out the divorce petition must give one of five reasons to prove that their marriage has permanently broken down. These are:

  1. Adultery – where one spouse has had sexual intercourse with someone of the opposite sex and the other spouse finds it intolerable to live with them as a result.
  2. Behaviour – often referred to as “unreasonable behaviour”, this covers a range of issues, from the relatively mundane, such as lack of communication and disagreements over money, to very serious issues, such as drug abuse and domestic violence. This is the most commonly used reason and must mean that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with their spouse anymore.
  3. Desertion – where one spouse has left the other for at least two years total out of the last two and half years without consent, without a good reason and with the intention to end the relationship. This fact is rarely relied upon.
  4. Separation for at least 2 years – if the non-petitioning spouse agrees to the divorce.
  5. Separation for at least 5 years – whether the non-petitioning spouse agrees to the divorce or not.

To rely on any of the first three reasons, one spouse must effectively accept the blame for the failure of the relationship. This introduces the potential for serious conflict as people can be reluctant to go on record as being to blame.

As a result, careful consideration and negotiation is often required to find reasons both spouses can agree on and that will be considered sufficient by a court to mean that the marriage has permanently broken down.

Another issue is that, under existing divorce laws, the spouse who does not initiate divorce proceedings (known as the ‘respondent’) can oppose the divorce petition. This introduces the possibility of people being trapped in loveless marriages they wish to leave, as happened in the Owens vs Owens divorce case.

How will the divorce process change when the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 comes into effect?

The are several key changes being brought in by the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 that should simplify the divorce process and remove the potential for a lot of avoidable conflict. These are:

  • Removing the requirement to provide a reason for the divorce
  • Removing the option for the respondent to oppose the divorce
  • Introducing joint applications, where a couple can apply for the divorce together

In effect, one or both spouses will now simply be able to state that they consider the marriage to be over with a statement of ‘irretrievable breakdown’. This will be all that the courts will need to grant the divorce.

These changes will also apply to civil partnership dissolution proceedings, providing parity for those in civil partnerships.

Is it worth waiting for a no fault divorce?

For most couples who wish to divorce, there is no need to wait for no fault divorce. With the right legal support, it is normally possible to end your marriage amicably, including dealing with financial matters and arrangements for any children you have.

Our divorce experts can provide sensible advice and support in preparing your divorce petition, negotiating with your spouse where required to agree on reasons to cite for the divorce that they can accept.

We can advise on mediation and other non-confrontational options to help you make a financial settlement and arrangements for children, avoiding contentious court proceedings wherever possible. This can allow you to get a divorce that works for you without any unnecessary conflict.

The only cases where it may be worth waiting for no fault divorce to come into law are where you are concerned that your spouse may seek to oppose the divorce. However, even in such cases, the situation can often be resolved without court proceedings with the right early intervention from our team.

In all eventualities, we strongly recommend speaking to our team before making any decisions about how you wish to proceed with your divorce.

Book a free 30-minute consultation with our divorce lawyer

Our divorce solicitors in Horsham want to make the process of getting divorced as easy as possible. We offer a free 30-minute consultation over the phone or via videoconference to discuss your circumstances and how we can help.

In most cases, we are able to handle all aspects of divorce, including financial settlements and arrangements for children, without the need for contentious court proceedings or unnecessary conflict. We can provide sensible advice to help you sidestep potential sources of tension while ensuring your needs are met and your future secured.

To arrange your free 30-minute consultation, please contact Marwa Hadi-Barnes today.