No fault divorce - UK divorce law changes explained

We explain how no fault divorce will work in England and Wales, when this comes into effect in April 2022.

No fault divorce is due to come into effect in England and Wales in April 2022. We look at the implications of the UK divorce law reforms and explain how no fault divorce will work in England and Wales.

The Government confirmed in April 2019 that divorce law in England and Wales would be changing, with the introduction of no fault divorce. This means that couples will be able to get divorced without one person needing to lay blame on the other. This change will also apply to civil partnership dissolution.

No fault divorce explained

Here is a breakdown of what the divorce law reforms will look like and how no fault divorce will work after these changes have come into effect.

1. Divorce can be granted without one person (spouse) blaming the other

The most important element of no fault divorce is, of course, the removal of fault or blame from the divorce process. Under the new laws, couples will be able to get divorced solely on the basis that the marriage has broken down, without needing to cite one of the 5 reasons for divorce (as is currently required).

This means that if the couple agrees to a divorce and the divorce is amicable or uncontested, there won't be a requirement for one person to blame the other for the breakdown of the marriage.

2. Couples will be able to apply for divorce jointly

Under current laws, one spouse needs to issue divorce proceedings against the other. The person who starts the divorce is called the petitioner and the other person is called the respondent. Under the no fault divorce system, both people will be able to make the application jointly.

Find out how to start a divorce now as a petitioner or a respondent.

3. There will be a minimum of 20 weeks between application and divorce becoming final

A minimum timeframe of 20 weeks (4.6 months) has been introduced to counter concerns that the reforms will make divorce a quicker and easier option for couples than trying to save their marriage. This 'period of reflection' will give couples an opportunity to reflect and work through their differences before committing to a divorce.

The new divorce process will still involve the two stages of decree nisi and decree absolute, but the names of these will change. The decree nisi will become a conditional order of divorce and the decree absolute will become the final order of divorce.

Another option for couples is to enter into a separation agreement, which is a written agreement outlining the terms of the separation. A separation agreement will not end the marriage, but it can enable both people to agree on the terms of the separation.

4. It will no longer be possible to contest a divorce

Under the current system, one person submits a divorce petition, citing their spouse's behaviour or a period of separation as the reason for the divorce, and their spouse can contest this. This is exactly what has happened in the high-profile divorce case of Tini and Hugh Owens. Under the new no fault divorce system, this option will be removed.

Current divorce process in England and Wales

In order to be granted a divorce in England or Wales, the Court needs to be convinced that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, to a point where it can't be saved.

Under current laws, unless a couple lives separately for at least 2 years they can only get a divorce if one person blames the other for this irretrievable breakdown of their marriage, and this must fall into the category of either adultery or unreasonable behaviour.

These blame-based options are two of 5 legally recognised reasons for the breakdown of a marriage under current laws.

Find out more about the current divorce process in England and Wales.

Our divorce lawyers can also help with both contested and uncontested divorce under the current system. We'll support you through the process from start to finish, so that it's as straightforward as possible. If your divorce is uncontested, meaning you both agree to the divorce, you can even start your divorce online.

No fault divorce pros and cons - the ongoing debate

No fault divorce first came onto the political agenda back in 2015, when Conservative MP Richard Bacon presented the House of Commons with the No Fault Divorce Bill. Since then, campaigners have been pushing for UK divorce law to be overhauled so that couples can be granted a divorce purely on the basis that their marriage has irretrievably broken down, without the need to lay blame on one person.

Arguments for no fault divorce

Former President of the Supreme Court, Baroness Hale, has been an advocate for the introduction of no fault divorce into UK law. She believes that being able to say the relationship has simply failed, without holding either person accountable, could ease some of the stress and pain that couples often endure during separation.

She also believes that this process would make it easier for couples to settle the terms of their divorce, without getting caught up in long-winded, acrimonious legal battles in court.

Other campaigners suggested that the current process for divorce can cause the relationship between the divorcing couple to deteriorate even further, as one person dredges up and documents evidence of the other’s behaviour.

Arguments against no fault divorce

On the other side of the coin, some people have been opposed to the introduction of no fault divorce into UK law. Some believe that making the divorce process easier could be damaging to the sanctity of marriage. They argue that couples may not think carefully enough before entering into a marriage if they feel that they can easily divorce if it doesn’t work out.

Some cited other potential risks associated with making divorce more straight-forward and more accessible, feeling that this could lead to more couples opting for divorce as soon as difficulties arise instead of taking the time to try to save their relationship.

If someone has been subjected to unreasonable behaviour in a marriage or their spouse has committed adultery, it was argued that the offending spouse should not have the option of getting a divorce without being held to account.

UK Government confirms plans for no fault divorce

The arguments for and against no fault divorce came to a head in 2018, when the UK Government confirmed that divorce law would be reformed in England and Wales. They acknowledged that current divorce laws are out of touch with modern life and proposed changes to remove blame from the divorce process.

These changes are set to come into effect in April 2022.

Start your divorce online in 5 steps