On 6th April 2022 the UK’s divorce laws changed for the first time in 50 years, and the ‘no-fault divorce’ was introduced. It was expected to bring an end to “archaic” legislation and a divorce process which was lengthy, costly and actively encouraged animosity. And so, over 12 months on, have we seen any improvements in how divorce proceedings are managed and experienced?
What is no-fault divorce?
Previous divorce laws required just one party to initiate divorce proceedings, which could be applied for on one of five grounds:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- 5 years’ separation without consent
- 2 years’ separation with consent
This meant that even if a separating couple were on good terms and their relationship had merely broken down naturally and for no single or specific reason, they had to cite one of these reasons and show evidence of it. In many cases this effectively involved accusing one party of something they hadn’t done. For obvious reasons, this caused friction and animosity, perhaps where there was none previously. It could also lead to that party defending themselves against these accusations, which could cause delays, stress and unnecessary costs.
No-fault divorce is a new process by which one or both parties can apply for divorce by making a court statement that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, and they don’t have to cite a reason for that. This means that divorcing couples don’t have to wait for two years of separation before initiating divorce proceedings, and they don’t have to attribute blame.
What effects has no-fault divorce had?
In the first few weeks of the new divorce laws being in practice, a significant increase in couples applying for divorce was seen. As soon as no-fault divorce was available, applications increased from an average of just over 2,000 per week, to 3,000 per week, or 600 per working day. It was felt that this was because many couples were waiting for the new laws to come into effect because they wanted to use a more amicable process, so it does indicate that no-fault divorce was a welcome change and a process designed to suit people and avoid making an already stressful situation much more difficult.
The increase in applications could also be attributed to COVID delays, and economical factors linked to the cost of living crisis, but speaking with divorcing couples we have dealt with at Ison Harrison, undoubtedly they welcomed the new laws primarily because they promoted a more amicable approach. No-fault divorce doesn’t cause aggravation where perhaps there was none, and therefore a party doesn’t have to defend themselves and delay the process. In extreme cases this may also lead to incidents of domestic assault or coercive behaviour where there previously wasn’t any risk of this.
Being able to jointly make a divorce application has also proven to be popular amongst couples we have spoken to. This has resulted in a more collaborative approach to the process, which makes decisions much easier for other matters that aren’t included in the divorce, for example financial settlements, property and assets and childcare arrangements. The joint application allows each partner to have equal control and creates the best environment in which they can remain on good terms.
One area where no-fault divorce has not had a great deal of impact is in speeding the divorce process up, once an application has been made. Of course, a separating couple can start proceedings much quicker, but the proceedings themselves will still take over six months to complete. Previously this time was taken up by applying for a decree nisi and subsequently waiting for a decree absolute. Now there is a six month ‘cooling-off period’ between the initial application being made and the Final Order being issued, which is designed to enable couples to reflect and potentially reunite. While this is a positive move designed to ease the process and give couples every opportunity to reconcile, it has not yet had that kind of impact.
Professional and emotional support with your divorce proceedings
In summary, no-fault divorce has had the desired effect, in making the divorce process much more amicable, less stressful and traumatic and provides a situation in which it is much easier for couples to negotiate and find common ground. This also makes the process less costly in terms of avoiding unnecessary court and solicitor fees. However, the process will still take roughly the same amount of time.
At Ison Harrison, we have a wealth of experience in our family law department, and we have specialist lawyers waiting to help you with divorce and separation. We can provide emotional support and the best possible advice on how to proceed with the divorce process, at all times ensuring that an already emotional situation is not made more difficult, so get in touch with our team at Ison Harrison today.