After years of campaigning to remove the need to blame one party when divorcing, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill gained Royal assent in June 2020, reforming divorce law in England and Wales, and paving the way for no-fault divorce.
With the introduction of no-fault divorce planned for the 6th April 2022, Stowe Solicitor Hannah Stubbs shares the most common misconceptions and explains what it means for couples who will divorce in 2022 and beyond.
Five misconceptions of no-fault divorce
The introduction of no-fault divorce, due to arrive in the UK in April 2022, will be the largest shake-up of divorce law since it began and will impact the entire divorce process.
But what do the actual changes mean for people getting divorced? I have already heard many misconceptions and myths circulating about no-fault divorce.
This article will help dispel some of them and answer the questions surrounding this change.
One: The “blame game” is completely over.
Not entirely. Under the new law, couples can divorce without citing blame. However, they can still cite one of the five current facts for a marriage breakdown (behaviour, adultery, five-year separation, two-year separation with consent, desertion).
In practice, this means that people will no longer need to prove conduct or fault of the other party as grounds for divorce, but they can do if that is the route they want to take.
From my experience with clients, I think that many couples will now choose to divorce without blame, and we will see a large reduction in the use of the other five facts.
Two: A no-fault divorce is a “quickie” divorce.
Actually, no – despite the media reports, a no-fault divorce is not a “quickie divorce” by any means.
Currently, the only set ‘cooling’ off period in the divorce process is that once the decree nisi is pronounced, you have to wait six weeks and one day before applying for the decree absolute.
Under the new system, people will now be required to wait for twenty weeks from filing their divorce petition before being able to proceed with an application for a conditional order (currently known as the decree nisi).
Once the twenty-week period is up, the applicant will need to confirm to the court that they wish to proceed; without this, the divorce will not move forward.
This period has been included to provide parties with a period of reflection to try and work on any issues that may stop the relationship from breaking down.
It is currently estimated that a “standard” (uncontested) divorce process can take anywhere between six to eight months, and it is expected that despite the changes, cases are likely to take a similar amount of time, not quicker.
Three: No-fault divorce will be cheaper
Not necessarily. When parties remain amicable, the case is less likely to have delays due to disagreement and, therefore, will cost less. However, removing blame from the process does not automatically mean the case will be shorter and less expensive. Remaining amicable and having a clear idea of any financial settlement and child arrangement details from the beginning will help manage costs.
Four: Only one person can make the divorce application
Currently, when one person is responsible for filing the petition, this automatically indicates there is someone to blame as the “Petitioner” has to prove there has been an irretrievable breakdown. However, choosing a no-fault divorce will allow couples to be co-applicants of the divorce petition, jointly applying for divorce.
Five: No-fault divorce is just about the removal of blame
No – the new law will also bring some key changes to divorce terminology in England and Wales.
Currently, the person making the divorce application is known as the “Petitioner”, and the other party is known as the “Respondent”. This will change when the new law is introduced, when “Petitioner” will be changed to “Applicant”. This change in terminology is designed to remove the assumption of blame simply because one party is filing the petition and the other person isn’t.
The new divorce process will still involve the two stages of decree nisi and decree absolute, but these names will also change. The decree nisi will become a ‘conditional order of divorce’, and the decree absolute will become the ‘final order of divorce’.
So, is it worth waiting for a no-fault divorce?
It is an interesting question and one that family lawyers are being asked a lot. The answer is not that straightforward, as it really does depend on the circumstances of the case.
For some, when considering the benefit of filing for divorce where there is no fault, and no fault has to be attributed, it’s worth the wait to April 2022. However, if people want to move forward with separation without unnecessary delay, parties can still elect to file a divorce petition on one or more of the existing grounds for divorce.
The new reforms will be introduced on 6 April 2022 and will apply to onward divorce petitions. Existing divorce petitions before the Court (i.e. filed before 6 April 2022) will remain live and will not need to be amended or refiled.
It is important to keep in mind that there is likely to be an influx of divorce petitions in April 2022 on the ground of no-fault divorce, and it is unknown whether there may be some delays in the court process because it has never been done before.
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