The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act (2020), which came into force in April 2022 radically changed the divorce process in the UK. The primary change is the removal of the requirement for couples to assign blame for the breakdown of their marriage to one another, removing contention as a product of the law. This change is part of a broader effort to improve the family justice system which can be unkind and unempathetic, especially to children – who now benefit from being the primary focus of divorce proceedings (in cases where there are children involved).
The old rules
Before the First World War, divorce in the UK was an expensive scandal that required applicants to prove adultery or violence. Only 1 in 450 marriages ended in divorce. Between 1914 and 2020 there were several changes in the law that added further grounds for divorce, the most recent being the 1969 Divorce Reform Act. All of these changes to the law were designed to empower women and reduce hostility. The Matrimonial Causes Act (1923) allowed women to petition for divorce for the first time, and then the Divorce Reform Act removed the concept of ‘matrimonial offences’, meaning there was no longer an ‘innocent’ and ‘guilty’ party.
Prior to the introduction of the no-fault divorce, which came into effect in April of 2022, there were limited circumstances under which one could obtain a divorce:
You would not be able to claim adultery if the couple had kept living together for more than six months after the ‘innocent’ party discovered the affair unless the behaviour was continuing.
- Unreasonable Behaviour
The most common grounds for divorce until no-fault, Unreasonable Behaviour required the petitioner to present a series of allegations proving that their partner had behaved in such a way that they could not be reasonably expected to live with them. This could be anything from having no common interests to serious allegations of abuse.
- Two Years Separation (if both parties consented)
You didn’t necessarily need to live separately for two years if you could prove that you led separate lives, i.e. you ate separately.
- Two Years Desertion
- Five years Separation (if only one party consented)
Is Divorce on the rise?
When no-fault divorce came into effect there was the anticipated spike in applications that comes with the start of something new – there were over 12,000 applications in April 2022. This figure is likely from couples who were waiting for the new law to come into effect before applying, even if their marriage had broken down in the years between the legislation passing and coming into effect.
Even without the surge of applications in April, there’s no denying no-fault divorce is popular. The statistics show that a year on from its launch divorce applications are on the rise, with a 22% increase on the same quarter in the previous year. There are a number of reasons for this beyond the expansion circumstances under which one can obtain a divorce. Most importantly, couples can decide together to get divorced, which previously has not been an option without two years of separation. Before the law changed a couple might have been stuck in a marriage that they knew wasn’t working because they didn’t want to start accusing each other.
Family law solicitors are also reporting minimal delays for couples applying digitally for no-fault divorces (though the average time to completion for divorces continues to rise), which makes it an attractive option for those looking to move on with their lives.
A Kinder System
The true victory of the no-fault divorce is that it permits us to be kind to one another. Finding fault with another as a means to end a relationship is inherently hostile and instigates conflict.
Mediation is the pillar of no-fault divorce. This time to talk gives all parties involved the chance to consider all aspects of their lives and detangle them in a way that is considerate and measured. If mediation is successful, the divorce doesn’t have to go to court.
In particular, children benefit greatly from this change which in many cases prevents them from witnessing their parents fighting. Children – particularly young children – struggle the most with their parent’s animosity. No-fault divorce creates a space for the complex discussion of what happens to them as their parent’s relationship ends that doesn’t make them bargaining chips or tools with which to hurt the other parent.
We can help
The family law team at Thompson Smith and Puxon are here to help you with your Divorce, whatever your circumstances.
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