Divorce “blame game” to end – No-fault divorce to start in autumn 2021


Fahmida Ahmed discusses the changes in law surrounding divorce.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 amends the existing laws relating to divorce. It allows applications for to claim “no-fault” in England and Wales.

Divorcing couples no longer have to blame one another for the breakdown of their marriage. The Act seeks to reduce family conflict. Its aim is to reduce the impact that allegations of blame can have on a couple and in particular the children of the marriage.

The new no-fault divorce is due to be implemented in the Autumn of 2021. 

The campaign for no-fault divorce

After decades of campaigning, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill received Royal assent and became an Act of Parliament on 25 June 2020.

Those who have observed the impact of relationship breakdowns have long campaigned for a better system.  Something that focuses on less confrontational, non-litigious ways of reaching financial settlements and discussing arrangements for their children. 

As family lawyers, we recognise that taking away blame does not encourage more people to divorce. Instead, it may help those who decide that their marriage or civil partnership has irretrievably broken down. It helps them deal with the legal and practical consequences without getting caught up in a “blame game”. 

Grounds for Divorce changed under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020

The current requirement to establish either a fault fact or a separation fact will be replaced with the option of one spouse or a couple jointly making a statement of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. This change dispenses with the need for one party to ‘blame’ the other. Therefore, removes a potential source of conflict where parties may be accused of exaggerating or embellishing the other’s supposed unreasonable behaviour.

The new law also prevents one spouse contesting a divorce if the other wants one. Therefore a statement of irretrievable breakdown will be conclusive evidence that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. So the court must then make a divorce order.

For some separating couples, the new law allows parties to make a joint application for divorce if they choose. Joint divorce petitions are possible in many other jurisdictions but have never been permitted in England and Wales until now.

The new law introduces a new minimum period of 20 weeks from the start of proceedings as confirmation to the court that a Conditional Divorce Order (previously known as Decree Nisi) may be made. This allowing more opportunity for couples to agree practical arrangements.  Whilst this is a significant extension to the current six week and one day period, the reality is that many divorces do not conclude in that time due to on-going discussions about the financial arrangements.

The language used is set to change; Decree Nisi will be replaced with “Conditional Divorce Order” and Decree Absolute replaced with “Final Divorce Order”.  Whilst this is not a substantive change to the law, it is a symbolic and important change nonetheless. This because it aims to create a distinction between family proceedings and other civil litigation, in conjunction with the removal of the “fault” facts in encouraging amicable proceedings.

These changes also apply to the dissolution of civil partnerships.

Disclaimer

The above does not convey legal advice.

If you are considering commencing divorce proceedings, you should seek the advice of a practising expert family lawyer. 

Farani Taylor Solicitors has the expertise you need.

If you would like any advice on what no-fault divorce means in practice or other family law issues, please contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist divorce lawyers at Farani Taylor Solicitors.