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How will new 'no fault' divorce laws work?

Updated: Jun 7, 2021

New laws which would spare divorcing couples from having to apportion blame for the breakdown of their marriage are set to come into force in 2022.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which received royal assent in summer 2020, is set to bring about the biggest change in divorce laws in half a century.

Currently, one spouse has to make accusations about the other’s conduct, such as ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or adultery, or alternatively face years of separation before a divorce can be granted –whether or not the couple made a mutual decision to separate.

The new laws will instead allow a spouse, or a couple, to apply for divorce by making a statement of irretrievable breakdown. It will also stop one partner contesting a divorce if the other wants one – which in some cases has allowed domestic abusers to exercise coercive control over their victim.

Commenting on the Bill earlier this year, Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP said it will bring divorce law in line with the government’s approach to family justice – avoiding confrontation wherever possible and reducing its damaging effect on children in particular.

Donna Sandall, principal solicitor at Donna Sandall Family Law, based at the Northern Echo Arena, in Darlington, said the reforms would help divorcing couples to focus on separating amicably.

She said: “Going through a divorce is currently, for many people, one of the most stressful periods in their lives. Having to make accusations about the other person’s conduct can create an adversarial and antagonistic atmosphere which can make an already challenging experience even more difficult.

“No-fault divorces will allow important discussions on subjects such as the division of financial assets and arrangements for children to begin on a much more positive note. It should make the whole process much more amicable.”

Current law requires people seeking divorce to give evidence of one of five facts to establish the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Three are based on ‘fault’ and two are based on a period of separation. The facts are: ‘unreasonable behaviour’, adultery, desertion, two years’ separation (if the other spouse consents to divorce) and five years’ separation (if the other spouse does not consent).

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill will replace the current requirement to evidence either a conduct or separation ‘fact’ with the provision of a statement of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. It will remove the possibility of contesting the decision to divorce, as a statement will be conclusive evidence that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

The Bill also introduces a new minimum period of 20 weeks from the start of proceedings to confirmation to the court that a conditional order of divorce may be made, allowing greater opportunity for couples to agree practical arrangements for the future where reconciliation is not possible and divorce is inevitable.

The laws will come into force on April 6, 2022.


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