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No fault divorce: the new law changes explained

Divorce is never easy, but difficult times may have been made a little easier with the arrival of the new no fault divorce law.

According to many, the new April 2022 changes have been a long time coming, with the previously archaic system now updated to remove the ‘blame game’ culture that many are familiar with.  

Learn everything you need to know about the new no fault divorce rules below.

No fault divorce: the new law changes explained

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What is no fault divorce?

For the first time in decades, this change to the UK divorce law will mean that married couples have the power to start divorce proceedings without having to apportion the blame for the breakdown of their marriage.

No fault divorce comes as part of the changes in the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act. These changes mean that they will neither need to place culpability, nor separate for at least two years (which increased to five if one party did not consent). 

Many are suggesting the change in law is long overdue. The previous law was set out in a statute that was passed in 1973, at a time when societal attitudes to divorce were fundamentally different to how they are now, nearly 50 years later.  

When did no fault divorce become law?

The changes to UK divorce law began on 6 April 2022, with no fault divorce officially becoming a viable option for couples looking to separate.

On 31 March, the service for dealing with the previous rules became unavailable as updates were made, after which the new paper and digital services could be accessed. 

What are the details of the divorce law changes? 

The new laws mean that instead of having to attribute blame to one party, a couple can mutually cite the ‘irretrievable breakdown’ of their relationship as grounds for wanting to obtain a divorce. 

This can be done either in a joint statement, or by an individual. Either spouse can provide a statement saying their marriage has broken down, without having to provide any evidence about bad behaviour.  

Along with making the divorce process less painful for separating couples, the new law will also help to prevent victims of domestic abuse being trapped by spouses contesting a divorce.

Such tactics have long been a tool for domestic abusers, as a way of exercising further coercive control through legal means. Under the new no fault divorce law, the ability to contest a divorce will be removed. 

While some have expressed concern that courts will see a spike in divorce cases, the focus on ending the ‘blame game’ will help to curb scenarios in which the law heightens conflict in an already fragile relationship – particularly when it comes to dealing with other issues that inevitably arise from the breakdown of a marriage.  

Of course, understanding what won’t change is just as important. So, it’s worth being aware that the new law will not impact the financial settlement process, which remains separate. 

When can I apply for a no fault divorce? 

A couple can file for a no fault divorce once they have been married for at least 12 months, regardless of whether or not both parties agree. Either one or both parties can apply.  

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act has also introduced a new minimum timeframe of 20 weeks between the start of proceedings and when individuals can apply for a conditional order of divorce.

This gives the couple time to reflect, and potentially make amends, or where reconciliation isn’t possible, time to agree important future arrangements regarding children, finance and property.  

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How much does a no fault divorce cost? 

The court fee to issue a divorce application is currently £593 in England and Wales. If you instruct a solicitor to deal with the process for you, this may be done at an hourly rate or on a fixed-fee basis. This is certainly advised, as embarking on divorce proceedings without sound legal advice could have untold financial implications further down the line.  

If you’re concerned about the cost, you may be able to get money off the court fees if you have little or no savings, and either receive certain benefits or have a low income.

If you have applied for financial support online, you’ll get a reference number that can be used when you apply for a divorce, so you don’t have to pay the fee upfront. 

How long does a no fault divorce take?

With the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act, the government has introduced a 20 week reflection period as a minimum, along with a further six week wait to end your marriage.

This means that in total, a no fault divorce should take approximately six months to complete. 

According to the Office for National Statistics, the divorce rate dropped in 2020, declining by 4.5 per cent to 103,592 cases in England and Wales.

However, it is expected that the updated rules could facilitate a substantial rise in cases, which could ultimately have an impact on the amount of time needed to complete the process.  

For some, there is concern that easier access to divorce applications may tempt couples to move through the process too quickly, and the situation could be even riskier if individuals decide not to use legal representation to make their initial application.

While doing so will save money, it could see couples initiating and concluding their divorce proceedings without considering the legal ramifications surrounding things like financial settlements, house occupation and insurance matters. 

Starting the divorce process before and after law changes 

If you were proceeding with an application before the law changed on 6 April 2022, you will have needed to have submitted your final application by the deadline of 31 March 2022. 

Any application that had been issued prior to 5 April, (Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute), continue to progress under existing law. But with the government’s new service now live, all new applications will be in line with the updated divorce laws.  

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About the author
Kate has written for leading publications and blue chip companies over the last 20 years.