It’s one year since we welcomed the arrival of no-fault divorce in England and Wales (6th April 2022).
As the biggest change to divorce law for decades, the advent of the no-fault process transformed divorce, separation, and civil partnership dissolution by removing the legal requirement for blame.
For the past year, couples have been able to file for divorce without accepting fault or assigning blame to their partner, and without fabricating a reason where they don’t naturally fit into the five previously accepted grounds for divorce.
No-fault divorce also removed the ability to contest a divorce.
What was it like to divorce before no-fault divorce?
Previously, irrespective of the reasons for divorce or the personal circumstances of a couple, there was a legal requirement to attribute blame to only one party, if they wanted to divorce in less than two years.
The five reasons, or grounds, for divorce included unreasonable behaviour, adultery, separation after two years with consent, separation after 5 years without consent, or desertion.
Why was no-fault divorce was introduced?
Having to distil events into one crystallised reason and assign blame to only one party was unproductive for separating couples at best and frequently destroyed what was left of the relationship.
Instead of conflict and stress, no-fault divorce paved the way for amicable collaboration, easing negotiations and reducing the overall mental health impact of divorce. It means that parties can find a way to move forward while focusing on the important issues, such as children, finances, and property.
In addition, removing the ability to contest a divorce removed potential barriers for victim-survivors of domestic abuse, and those trapped in controlling relationships.
Reflections on no-fault divorce one year on
While no-fault divorce is a step forward that’s hugely benefited some, we must also consider the negative impact it has had on many couples going through the divorce process.
No-fault divorce has removed the sometimes cathartic and understandable desire to blame. This has left some people frustrated. For example, if one party files for divorce following their partner’s infidelity, there is no longer a formal acknowledgement of their ex-partner’s misconduct or a way to hold them accountable for their actions. Whether divorce is a result of serious and sustained wrongdoing, or simply the result of growing apart, the divorce process is the same.
Now, with no-fault divorce, it’s not essential to share the reason for the marital breakdown. However, as family lawyers we sometimes see that because this emotional line hasn’t been drawn at the outset, it can muddy the waters later in the divorce journey. Without an official vent, suppressed frustration about the cause of the divorce can occur. For many, tensions start running high later in the proceedings, creating further animosity and lengthier arguments over the practical elements of the divorce, such as dividing up assets and agreeing child arrangements.
We must remember that most people going through a divorce are looking at matters through an emotional lens, rather than from a purely rational perspective. So, while no-fault divorce has certainly been a welcome change that has helped many couples to separate amicably, there is a flip side that should be acknowledged to help mitigate animosity further down the line.
No-fault divorce has arrived
The no-fault divorce process
A complete guide to no-fault divorce
How no-fault divorce impacted victims of domestic abuse