The no-fault divorce has been looming on the legal horizon for quite some time. When we wrote about this back in June 2014, no date had been set for the second reading of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill. Fast forward a few years and the bill’s parliamentary journey is almost at its conclusion. Ministers have announced that the no-fault divorce will come into force on 6th April 2022.
Here we take a look at the catalysts for change and whether the reforms will be welcomed by the legal profession.
Why the change?
Current UK divorce law dates back to 1973. Couples who wish to legally go their separate ways as quickly as possible often must cite either unreasonable behaviour or adultery as the reason. That’s not to say that couples can’t avoid the blame game, but for that privilege they’re required to wait at least two years.
The introduction of the no-fault divorce has been hailed by many as a welcome change. Advocates of the measure argue that divorce proceedings are stressful enough, without the added animosity caused by allocating blame. There are many elements to deal with alongside a divorce (which only legally ends the marriage itself) including: arrangements for the children, bruised egos, hurt feelings, not to mention the division of assets. All reasons many feel that adding blame into the mix is simply out of kilter with what family law aims to achieve.
What else is new?
The changes go further than the no-fault element. Under the new law, the minimum time frame for proceedings is six months. This gives the parties time to reflect on their decision and challenges the notion that ‘no-fault’ translates to ‘quickie divorce’. However, there’s no doubt that concerns around the time period remain. Critics suggest that this is nothing more than a countdown to divorce finality.
Will this change much in practice? Probably not. It’s very common to wait until a financial agreement has been reached and made legally binding before the marriage itself is brought to an end and that typically takes at least 6 months anyway. If you’re wanting to end the marriage before you have a legally binding financial agreement, we recommend that you take advice before doing so to ensure you are aware of any valuable benefits that could be lost by doing so.
Perhaps the most notable addition is the fact that the non-petitioning spouse will no longer be able to refuse a divorce. The case of Owens v Owens illustrates vividly the agonising stalemate such a situation can bring. Here, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the appeal of Tini Owens after her husband refused to agree to a divorce. The case had a massive impact on how people view the current law and was arguably instrumental in the campaign for change.
Is it welcomed?
Support for the no-fault divorce has been overwhelming. As an organisation, Resolution has been campaigning for over 30 years to bring this aspect of the law into the 21st century. It’s safe to say that this is a massive step forward.
It’s argued by some that the no-fault divorce seriously undermines the institution of marriage. However, for many, ensuring that separations are concluded with civility and dignity is far more respectful to the notion of marriage, more so than a system based on blame, fault and negativity.
Difficult conversations are often inevitable when it comes to divorce. However, family law is not the arena for sustained levels of conflict that benefit no one, least of all the families involved. To continue with a system based on fault not only undermines the essence of what it means to build a family, but also the honourable intentions of family law.