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No Fault Divorce delay

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It has been confirmed by Ministers as a response to a Parliamentary Question on 7th June that the implementation of no-fault divorce, which was meant to happen in Autumn 2021, has been postponed to 6th April 2022. The reason behind the delay is the need to make amendments to the court forms and the online digital divorce service, which will not be concluded before the end of the year. The new law will impact the legislation that has been regulating the termination of marriages since 1973.

It may come as a surprise to many who have not yet experienced the divorce proceedings that falling out of love and wishing to live separate lives is not a good enough reason to end a relationship under the current law. Due to the weight given to the institution of marriage in the UK, marriages can only be terminated after its first anniversary if they have irretrievably broken down due to one of five facts – three of which require assignment of blame.

Despite hampering the process and imposing the current ‘blame game’, which is outdated and damaging to the relationships of all involved, there has been no success in avoiding divorces. The average divorce rate in the UK is still over 33%, meaning one in every three couples still divorce in the country, although numbers have been going down since 1993. In addition, less than 1% of divorces are contested each year, showing that there is indeed a consensus between the parties regarding the termination of the relationship once they decide to initiate proceedings.

The new divorce law will keep the requirement of irretrievable breakdown, but will strike out the five facts, allowing couples to state that their marriage has terminated based on their own understanding of it. Couples will also be allowed to make a joint application, showing their common intention to move on from the relationship. In addition, the legislation will remove the possibility of contesting the divorce application, unless on grounds such as fraud and coercion.

The divorce proceedings will still be comprised of two phases: the decree nisi will be called a Conditional Order and can only be made 20 weeks after the application is filed, and the decree absolute will be called a Final Order and can only be made 6 weeks after the Conditional Order. This means that the new legislation will, in fact, make the divorce proceedings longer. The intention behind such delay is to create a ‘period of reflection’ of six months, allowing couples to reconsider their decision before the divorce is granted. It is already extremely rare for couples to change their minds after filing for a divorce, which means that this period is very unlikely to make any actual difference. However, its implementation seems to give peace of mind to those who worry about ‘divorce on demand’ becoming a reality.

It is important to highlight that the change in the divorce law will not impact financial proceedings, as the apportionment of blame is rarely taken into consideration when calculating the financial settlement. The advice to wait until assets have been divided and a court order made before applying for Final Order will also remain the same as the consequences of divorcing on the individual’s finances will not be affected by the reform.

Couples wishing to divorce who have been waiting for the new law to come into force are encouraged to consider whether it is still worth it to wait until April under their own personal circumstances. If they decide otherwise and wish to proceedings now, they should contact their Family solicitors to ensure their divorce under the current rules is still as amicable as possible.