No Fault Divorce: What has the Impact Been?

What is no fault divorce?

No fault divorce became law on 6 April 2022 – exactly one year ago today. The change in law was intended to modernise the divorce process in England and Wales and reduce the amount of conflict involved.

When it was introduced, no fault divorce was hailed as the most significant change to divorce law in the last 50 years. We’ve explored how the new legislation has impacted the divorce process in four key areas, including:

No more ‘blame game’ for divorcing couples

Before no fault divorce was passed into law, there was pressure on divorcing couples to place blame on one individual. If they didn’t, there would be a wait of at least two years before the divorce process could begin.

This meant that couples seeking a divorce would often find themselves in conflict right from the outset as they would have to agree on one of five grounds for the divorce. These included:

  • Adultery
  • Desertion
  • Five years separation – where one person has not agreed to the divorce
  • Two years separation – where both parties consent to the divorce
  • Unreasonable behaviour

Under the new legislation, you no longer have to provide a reason for divorce other than that the marriage or civil partnership has irretrievably broken down. This has made it easier for couples to divorce amicably as there is no requirement for one person to take responsibility.

Legal jargon removed from divorce proceedings

In the past, terminology used to describe key stages of the divorce process has been labelled as confusing and outdated. This language has now been updated in an attempt to make divorce proceedings more accessible and straightforward.

Some of the main changes include:

  • The person applying for the divorce is now known as the applicant instead of the petitioner
  • The decree nisi has been replaced by the term conditional order
  • The decree absolute is now called the final order

By replacing these terms with ‘plain English’ phrases, it’s hoped that people may feel less intimidated by the language of divorce. Although this may seem like a minor change, it has removed a layer of complexity that was often argued to be unnecessary.

Couples can apply for a divorce together

Under previous divorce laws, one person – known as the petitioner – would have to issue divorce proceedings against their former partner. This meant that even if a couple had both agreed to a divorce, they would still need to assume the positions of petitioner and respondent.

Now, both parties can apply for a no fault divorce as joint applicants. This can be done either online or by post, but both you and your ex will need to use the same application method.

The intention behind this change was to take some of the stress out of the application process for couples who are seeking an amicable divorce. But it is still possible under the new laws to apply for a divorce by yourself.

If your former partner doesn’t agree to the divorce – or they’re unwilling to co-operate – you will be referred to as the sole applicant and your ex will become the respondent. But they will not have the same powers to dispute your application as they would have under previous divorce legislation.

You can no longer contest a divorce

Under the new no fault divorce legislation, it is no longer possible to contest a divorce unless there is a legitimate legal reason why the divorce cannot go ahead. This will only usually apply if the marriage itself was never made valid, or if it has already been formally dissolved.

The decision to make this change to the law was largely based on the case of Owens v Owens which concluded in 2018.

Mrs Owens had applied for divorce from her husband in May 2015, stating unreasonable behaviour as the reason for her application. But her husband disputed this, arguing that his behaviour was not unreasonable in the context of the marriage.

Despite taking her case all the way to the supreme court, Mrs Owens was unable to convince the judges that her marriage had irretrievably broken down. As a result, she was forced to wait until 2020 before applying for a divorce on the basis of a five-year separation.

Thankfully, Mrs Owens’ case spurred on discussions around the impracticality of allowing one spouse to dispute a divorce based on their own desires. And this was eventually incorporated into no fault divorce legislation.

Updates to the law around divorce have undoubtedly removed some of the stress involved in the process. But it is by no means a silver bullet.

Going through a divorce will always be difficult emotionally and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed at times. An experienced family law solicitor can help you to navigate the process, so you’ll have the reassurance of an expert by your side.

If you’re starting the process of divorce, we could help you. Get in touch with our friendly advisors to find out more.


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