The introduction of No-fault divorce in England and Wales has been on the government's agenda for many years.
This post is updated with the latest news and explains the background on No-fault divorce, when it became law, when couples can actually use it and what your options are now if you want to divorce or separate.
When will No-Fault divorce become law in England and Wales?
The bill passed it's second reading in Parliament and got Royal Assent in June 2020. However, don't stop reading just yet, as couples won't be able to use No-Fault divorce in England and Wales until 2021.
The most likely timing is Autumn, probably October 2021 because rule changes in the government tend to take place in April and October. However, on this occasion, there is probably too much to be sorted (the rules, the online process, the forms you'll need to fill in etc.) to be able to implement the new laws in April 2021.
What do the new No-Fault divorce laws mean?
- The new laws will end the necessity for couples to blame each other or be separated for long periods of time
- No-fault divorce will become the sole reason for divorce and will replace the five options currently listed on the legal documents (adultery, behaviour, desertion, two years separation and five years separation)
- You will be able to give notice of your intention to divorce or end your civil partnership as an individual (like now) or as a couple.
- There will no longer be an option to contest the divorce. If one of you thinks it's over – it is.
- There will still be two stages after giving notice, as now called Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute.
- Every couple will have to go through a six-month minimum notification period
- The language used on the forms will be changed to get rid of the archaic language. For example, what is now called a 'Divorce Petition' will be called 'An application for divorce order', 'Decree Nisi' will be changed to 'Conditional Order of Divorce' and 'Decree Absolute' will change to 'Final Order of Divorce'
What should you do if you want to divorce or end your civil partnership now?
Even though the divorce laws have changed, if you want to divorce or end your civil partnership now, you'll need to choose one of the five grounds for divorce or wait until the new laws are implemented:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Adultery (can't be used by same-sex couples)
- Two years separation
- Five years separation
Are there reasons not to wait for No-Fault divorce?
- If you have a financial consent order as part of your divorce or dissolution, then this can only be sent to court and made legally binding once you have reached the Decree Nisi stage. If you must wait six months in addition to waiting for Decree Nisi you could be waiting a long time to finalise both legal processes.
- There may be tax implications if you wait to divorce, for example if you own property and one of you has already moved out.
If I'm going to wait for No-Fault divorce, can I protect myself if we're just separating?
- If you're going to separate before you divorce, then you could consider a separation agreement. A separation agreement is an agreement between the two of you that sets out what will happen to your finances during your separation and before you get a financial consent order.
- Unlike a consent order, a separation agreement isn't enforceable through the court.
- Usually, a separation agreement is the basis for a consent order, but if one person changes their mind, it can be used by the other in a court hearing to show what has happened so far and what you agreed was fair at the outset. A judge will consider a separation agreement if it is properly drawn up, witnessed and was reasonable in the circumstances at the time.
Why No-Fault divorce is important
The shift from fault-based to no-fault divorce proceedings is a hugely welcome development and one that is long overdue.
Moving away from an antiquated fault-based system will empower people to start their separation without placing blame on one person, help them to protect their children and keep conflict to a minimum.
Children are the biggest winners in the new changes to the laws as parents will be able to keep things on an amicable footing and prioritise the care of their kids over arguing about divorce proceedings.
What is the law on no-fault divorce elsewhere in the UK?
In Scotland, no-fault divorce is already in place and you can divorce after two years apart without the need of the other person’s consent. It can be done after just one year of marriage if you have consent from your ex.
For help if you live in Scotland, please check the latest government advice here
If you're based in Northern Ireland, no-fault divorce is still under review unfortunately. But the hope is that the progress of England and Wales will see the reform of this law in Northern Ireland accelerated.
For help with divorce if you live in Northern Ireland, please check the latest government advice here
If you and or your ex live or are domiciled in either England or Wales, amicable can help - Book a free 15-minute advice call here.
The blame game
Because we don't yet have no-fault divorce in England and Wales, if you're applying for a divorce or dissolution now using 'unreasonable behaviour' you must list events strong enough to be accepted by a judge.
It's a ridiculous balancing act trying to find reasons strong enough to pass through the court yet not so contentious as to overly upset your ex.
Furthermore, even if you have an amicable divorce, seeing a list of your misdemeanours at a time that is already emotionally charged, can be incredibly upsetting.
This can create conflict and set the process back considerably. In many circumstances, there has been no 'unreasonable behaviour', just a slow realisation that the relationship is over and no longer tenable.
This new law to allow blameless divorce will help tens of thousands of people who want to divorce amicably and without further drama for either party or their children.
Over two-thirds of people support No-Fault divorce
A YouGov poll showed that 69% of the population support no-fault divorce. There is increasing media coverage about the benefits of amicable divorce, and 99% of divorces in England and Wales are uncontested.
An article by Flic Everett in the Daily Telegraph highlighted the growing number of people who are choosing to 'semi-split' rather than blame their partner.
People are finding ways around the current law that make more sense for their family. It's a positive move towards divorce and relationship breakdown becoming a less painful process.
No-fault divorce - what's happened so far?
June 2020 Update | New divorce laws and no-fault divorce receive Royal Assent
The new divorce laws pass the second hearing in Parliament and shortly after receive Royal Assent. This means that No-Fault divorce is now law in England and Wales but couples won't actually be able to use it until it's implemented in 2021.
Listen to episode ten of The Divorce Podcast when Nigel Shepherd joins host Kate Daly. Nigel has been campaigning for no-fault divorce for over 25 years and was awarded the John Cornwell Award for Outstanding Contribution to Family Law at the Jordans Family Law Awards in 2019.
April 2019 Update | New divorce law in England and Wales?
David Gauke, Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor confirmed today that divorce laws will change and 'no-fault divorce' will be introduced. This is the first change in divorce laws for nearly 50 years.
Currently, in England & Wales, there are five reasons or facts couples can use to prove their marriage has broken now irretrievably: unreasonable behaviour, adultery, two years separation, five years separation and desertion.
The new laws will sweep aside the need for one spouse to blame or be separated for long periods of time and instead require a notice period.
September 2018 Update | Tini Owens
There has been a lot of discussion in the media recently about no-fault divorce. Lots of the commentary comes off the back of Tini Owens and her application for a divorce.
Mrs Owens had petitioned to divorce her husband of 38 years, using his 'unreasonable behaviour' as the reason for the divorce. During divorce proceedings, Mr Owens rejected her reasoning, stating that he wanted to remain married.
A judge refused her divorce petition, and last week Mrs Owens went to the High Court in London to appeal against that decision.