On 6 April 2022, the UK saw a significant change in family law when the no fault divorce legislation came into effect. This new legislation has brought about some significant changes in the way couples can legally end their marriages. One year on, it is worth examining the impact of this change.
Before the implementation of the no fault divorce law, couples in England and Wales had to base their divorce petition on one of five reasons to end their marriage: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, separation for two years with the other party’s consent, or separation for five years without consent. The new approach has removed these requirements and instead allows couples to apply for a divorce without needing to prove fault.
The most significant impact of the no fault divorce law has been a reduction in acrimony and conflict between divorcing couples in relation to them no longer having to go into detail as to why they say the marriage has broken down. Under the old system, couples had to blame one another for the breakdown of the marriage, which could lead to resentment and acrimony from the outset. Now, couples can end their marriage with less animosity and hostility. This change in the law is a helpful change to assist in couples being able to maintain a civil relationship during, and after their divorce. It, of course, is not possible in every situation, but it does help in a lot of cases.
The no fault divorce law has also been widely welcomed by family lawyers. The old system was often criticised for being outdated and causing unnecessary stress and conflict for couples. The new law has streamlined the divorce process itself and allowed lawyers to focus on resolving other issues, such as resolving financial matters and arrangements for children as amicably as possible.
One potential drawback of the no fault divorce law is that whilst streamlined in terms of the approach itself, the time the process takes has been lengthened, so that a Conditional Order (previously called the Decree Nisi) cannot be applied for until 20 weeks have passed from the divorce application being acknowledged. The rationale of this is well intended to ensure that couples have a ‘cooling off’ period, to ensure they want to proceed, but it can have an impact on them being able to obtain legally binding orders in relation to their finances, particularly if they have been able to be agreed quickly and amicably, as the Court is not able to approve and make legally binding a financial agreement until there is a Conditional Order in place. The Final Order (previously called the Decree Absolute) can be applied for 6 weeks after the Conditional Order is pronounced. It is therefore still extremely important that couples obtain advice to deal with the other aspects that have to be considered and finalised between them, as the ‘Final Order’ only relates to the divorce itself being finalised, not any other matters.
Overall, the no fault divorce approach has had a positive impact on family law. It has reduced conflict and acrimony between divorcing couples, and made the divorce process itself less adversarial. While there may be some concerns in relation to matters such as those referred to above, it is generally the case that the benefits of the no fault divorce law outweigh any potential drawbacks and has been a welcome change.
Author: Sarah Wyburn