no-fault divorce law reforms and changes

Andrew Stout, an experienced family law solicitor at Tallents Solicitors in Newark welcomes the government’s plans to introduce divorce law reforms through new legislation for no-fault divorces. He writes that the new legislation, which the government will be introducing as soon as Parliamentary time allows, will end the blame-game between divorcing couples as it will remove the need to prove that one of the partners is at fault.

What do I need to prove to get a divorce currently?

Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 in England and Wales, anyone currently seeking a divorce must prove that one party of the marriage has caused an ‘irretrievable’ breakdown by establishing one of five facts of fault.

The first three facts are: adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion.

Failing that, both parties must then wait two years after separation and then both must consent to the divorce.

Otherwise, without mutual consent or clear evidence of fault, the couple must live apart for five years before applying for a divorce.

Andy notes that this current system forces couples to point the finger at each other, and for one partner to admit to a ‘fault’ or blame, if a divorce is to occur earlier than two years, causing acrimony and undue stress.

What is a no-fault divorce?

Under the new laws for no-fault divorces, the separating couple will file a petition for divorce, including a statement of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

Then a minimum six-month timeframe will be introduced from the initial petition to the legal end of the marriage. The thinking is that this time will allow both couples to fully reflect on their decision to separate and seek relationship counselling or mediation if they wish. However, this timeframe  will not allow a spouse to refuse the divorce, if the other partner wants to be free.

Proposals for change:

  • retaining the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage as the sole ground for divorce
  • replacing the requirement to provide evidence of a ‘fact’ around behaviour or separation with a requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown
  • retaining the two-stage legal process currently referred to as decree nisi and decree absolute
  • creating the option of a joint application for divorce, alongside retaining the option for one party to initiate the process
  • removing the ability to contest a divorce
  • introducing a minimum timeframe of 6 months, from petition stage to final divorce (20 weeks from petition stage to decree nisi; 6 weeks from decree nisi to decree absolute).

Aiming for a reduction in conflict when children are involved

Divorce is an incredibly emotional time for all parties involved and this is increased if children are involved too. In order to divorce more quickly than waiting a minimum of two years, currently one partner must accept the blame and this can lead to increased hostility and conflict between them.

However, it’s hoped that by reducing animosity and parental conflict during a no-fault divorce, then the ex-partners can develop positive relationships as co-parents and focus on their children’s wellbeing and balance in two separate families going forward. As a member of the Law Society’s Children Panel, Andy is especially keen to see a reduction in the stress placed on children during a divorce.

Advice and support is available for divorcing couples

If any of these issues have touched you, then Andy and his team across Newark, Southwell and Mansfield are available to discuss your personal circumstances in confidence. He is also a Resolution Accredited Family Law Specialist and has significant experience in mediation for separating couples.

For clients wanting to receive a written confirmation of the legal options open to them, then our Newark office offers an initial fixed fee family law meeting for just £100+VAT.

Tallents Solicitors also run a free family law clinic at their Southwell office on Tuesday evenings from 5pm–7pm. No appointment is necessary.