No fault divorce - UK divorce law changes explained

We explain no fault divorce, which came into effect in England and Wales on 6 April 2022.

No fault divorce came into effect in England and Wales on 6 April 2022. We look at the implications of the UK divorce law reforms and explain how the no fault divorce process works.

The Government confirmed in April 2019 that divorce law in England and Wales would be changing, with the introduction of no fault divorce. This has been the most significant change to divorce law since 1969.

The introduction of no fault divorce means that couples can get divorced without one person needing to lay blame on the other. This change also applies to civil partnership dissolution.

It's also no longer possible to contest a divorce or civil partnership dissolution (unless it's on the basis of jurisdiction).

No fault divorce explained

Here is a breakdown of the divorce law reforms and how no fault divorce will works now that these changes have come into effect.

1. Divorce can be granted without one person 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 can get divorced solely on the basis that the marriage has broken down, without needing to cite one of the 5 reasons for divorce, as was previously required.

This means there isn't a requirement for one person to blame the other for the breakdown of the marriage or civil partnership.

2. Couples can apply for divorce jointly

Under the old divorce laws, one person needed to issue divorce proceedings against the other.

The person who started the divorce used to be called the petitioner. Under the new no fault divorce system, the application can either be made by one person (called the applicant) or both people can make the application jointly.

If the application is just made by one person, the other person is called the respondent.

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

3. Divorce terminology has been updated

Some of the wording previously used in the divorce process was flagged as being outdated, so it has been brought up to date. The person applying for the divorce is now called the applicant, instead of the petitioner. The decree nisi is now called the conditional order and the decree absolute is now called the final order.

4. There is a minimum timeframe of 26 weeks between the application and final order

A minimum timeframe of 20 weeks has been introduced between the application being submitted and the final order being applied for. A minimum timeframe of 20 weeks has been introduced between the application being issued and the conditional order being applied for. A further 6 week and 1 day period must then pass between the condition order and the application for the final order.

This timeframe has been introduced to counter concerns that the reforms would make divorce a quicker and easier option for couples than trying to save their relationship. This 'period of reflection' gives couples an opportunity to reflect and work through their differences before committing to a divorce or civil partnership dissolution.

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

5. It is no longer possible to contest a divorce

This is one of the most significant changes to come out of the divorce law reforms.

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

Under the new divorce system, a divorce or civil partnership dissolution can only be contested on the basis of jurisdiction. It cannot be contested for any other reason.

The old divorce process in England and Wales

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 the old divorce system, unless a couple lives separately for at least 2 years they could only get a divorce if one person blamed the other for the irretrievable breakdown of their marriage. And the reason for this had to fall into the category of either adultery or unreasonable behaviour.

These blame-based options were two of 5 legally recognised reasons for the breakdown of a marriage under the previous divorce system.

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

Our divorce lawyers can also support you through the divorce process from start to finish, so that it's as straightforward as possible. We'll explain the new rules and requirements to ensure everything's clear, and you can even start your divorce online.

How much does no fault divorce cost?

At Co-op Legal Services, our family law solicitors can take you through the divorce process for a fixed fee. If you are the person applying for the divorce, our fixed fees start from £600. If you’re the person responding to the divorce, our fixed fees start from £400.

There is also a court fee which will need to be paid to the court by the person making the divorce application. This is currently £593.

Contact our divorce team today for advice and guidance on starting your divorce.

Dealing with finances in no fault divorce

The no fault divorce process does not automatically end a couple’s financial commitments to each other, so it’s important that finances are dealt with at the same time as the divorce. Unless you take steps to resolve your financial matters, one person could make a financial claim against the other after getting divorced.

Find out more about money matters in divorce.

The background - the no fault divorce debate explained

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. After this, campaigners called for for UK divorce law to be overhauled so that couples could be granted a divorce purely on the basis that their marriage broke down, without the need to lay blame on one person.

Arguments for no fault divorce

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

She also believed 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 old process for divorce could 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 were opposed to the introduction of no fault divorce into UK law. Some believed that making the divorce process easier could be damaging to the sanctity of marriage. They argued 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.

It was also argued that a spouse who had committed adultery or behaved unreasonably should not be able to get divorced without being held to account.

UK Government confirmed date 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.

These changes came into effect on 6th April 2022.

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