You may have heard that no fault divorce has been implemented in the UK, but you might not know exactly what that means. Following the changes in April, it’s important to understand where you stand under the new system.
This can help you to effectively plan what you want to do going forward and to what degree you wish your spouse to be involved. It’s also sensible to learn some of the changes to the legal language in divorce, as this can help you to understand divorce advice and resources prepared under both the old and new regulations.
In this article we will help you to understand what changes have come in, why they’ve happened, and how they may affect your divorce.
Does the UK have no fault divorce?
As of April 2022, new laws came into effect, introducing no fault divorce to the UK.
The plans to reform divorce legislation were first announced in 2019 and the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act was passed in 2020. However, its implementation was delayed from its planned date due to bugs in the new digital platform. The laws also cover the dissolution of civil partnerships.
How does a no fault divorce work?
The previous divorce system in the UK was largely fault-based. To obtain a divorce, you either had to have been separated from your partner for at least two years, or rely on a fault-based ‘fact’, either unreasonable behaviour or adultery, as evidence of the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. .
Under the old system, the petitioner had to focus on the actions of the other party and how they caused the end of the marriage. It was then up to the second party to either confirm or contest what had been written.
In no fault divorce, there is no longer a need to blame one party for the marriage coming to an end. The only evidence either party needs to give is a statement that they no longer wish to remain in the marriage because it has broken down irretrievably. Both parties can also now submit a joint application if they wish.
It is hoped that this will create less unnecessary conflict during divorce cases, causing less emotional distress and splintered family relationships. Particularly in cases involving children, it’s believed the new process will help families to make a smoother transition to their new normal.
How long does a no fault divorce take?
Due to concerns that the new system would make it easier to get a divorce without serious consideration, the new regulations come with a 26-week minimum timeframe.
This is split into a 20 week “cooling off” period between the first application and the date from which the applicant is able to apply for a Conditional Order, and then the minimum of 6 weeks after that before the application for the Final Order.
However, in most cases, you should expect a divorce to take longer than this. While divorces concerning couples without children who have only been married a few years can often go through fairly quickly, financial settlements and child arrangements can take some time. This is especially true if any contested court proceedings are required in order to come to an agreement.
While divorces under the previous system could theoretically finalise in as little as 16 weeks, the average was closer to 50 weeks.
Has the legal language changed for no fault divorce?
There have been a few changes to the language used in divorce to make it clearer and more accessible:
– The person or persons applying for a divorce will now be known as the “applicant(s)” rather than a “petitioner”.
– The first court order will be known as a “Conditional Order” rather than a “Decree Nisi”
– The court order which finalises a divorce will now be a “Final Order” rather than a “Decree Absolute”
There are also some minor changes in the wording of nullity and judicial separation “Decrees”.
– Decrees of Nullity are now Nullity of Marriage Orders
– Decrees of Judicial Separation are now Judicial Separation Orders
Is there different paperwork for a no fault divorce?
The key differences, as mentioned above, are the differences in the petition/application process. One or both parties can now fill out the application, which no longer needs to reference one of the 5 ‘facts’ previously used as a reason for the divorce. To fill out a divorce application, applicants will still need either the original marriage certificate or a certified copy, the full name and address of their spouse, and documentation showing any changes you’ve made to your own name.
As with the previous application process, parties will be able to keep their details private from their spouse, where necessary, when using the new digital service.
Acknowledgements of service documents will continue to be served by the court (often by email, where personal addresses are provided). In the case of a joint application, both spouses will need to fill these out within 14 days of service.
These give the opportunity for the recipients to tell the court if the divorce is unable to go through due to, for example, the marriage being invalid in the first place or those concerned being ineligible to be divorced in the UK. However, they no longer enable the recipient to challenge the grounds for divorce. If a respondent does wish to dispute the application, they will have to do so through a paper form rather than through the online system.
While the Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute now have different names, they essentially fulfil the same role in the divorce process as they did previously and the application process for both is similar. Small changes include:
– The obligatory waiting period before applicants are allowed to apply for a Conditional Order
– The option to make joint or Sole applications for the new Conditional and Final Order.
– Rules as to when a solicitor or citizen can use the digital or paper forms to request an order
How much does a no fault divorce cost?
Court fees for a divorce application will remain the same – £593. Depending on how you approach the divorce, there are likely to also be fees for the services of solicitors and other professionals to help you through the process.
There will also be costs associated with addressing financial issues arising from the separation, and sorting out any child arrangements where relevant.
What if my application has already been submitted under the old divorce laws?
All applications issued on or before the 5th of April will continue through the process as they would have done before the new laws were introduced.
What’s the value of a lawyer in a no fault divorce case?
A no-fault divorce doesn’t mean a divorce without disagreements or legal ambiguity.
Although contested divorces will no longer create problems in the same way, solicitors can still offer valuable assistance at every step of the divorce process.
A divorce lawyer can offer help with (joint or sole) divorce applications and help you to understand your position regarding financial settlements and any child arrangements.
They can offer clarity about what can be the trickier points of financial negotiations, such as pensions and property, and link you to professionals with yet more expert knowledge in these areas.
Solicitors also provide an invaluable source of support and advice if you’re going through mediation, or discussing things with your spouse directly. Solicitors can negotiate on your behalf if you are struggling to agree with your spouse, and they can help you finalise and implement any agreements you reach.
Should your case require contested court proceedings, they can prepare your case all the way through, preparing documents for the court, keeping on top of various deadlines and helping your barrister to represent you at hearings.
It’s also important to consider the value brought by a lawyer’s additional training or specialisms. At Harbour Family Law, for example, we have many legal professionals trained in collaborative law. This is another form of dispute resolution which can help support couples aiming for an amicable divorce and help avoid expensive court costs.
If a family lawyer is a member of Resolution, as all our solicitors are, you can expect to work with someone who will try to keep conflict to a minimum and always put the interests of any children first in a case.
Do you need assistance navigating a no fault divorce?
A divorce can be daunting at the best of times, but divorcing under new legal regulations can make you feel even more vulnerable. It can be difficult to know what existing divorce guidance is still valid, or how your situation might be viewed differently.
If you’d like to find out for certain where you stand and how to move forward in your case, contact Harbour Family Law. We are a specialist family law firm based in the wider Bristol area, committed to helping our clients reach dignified, well considered resolutions.
If you would like to arrange an initial consultation with a member of our family law team, please do not hesitate to contact us on T: 0117 3751780 or E: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The news articles and blogs contained on this website do not constitute legal advice in relation to any particular situation. While Harbour Family Law aims to ensure that the information is correct (for England & Wales) at the date on which it is added to the website, the legal position can change frequently, and content will not always be updated following any relevant changes. You therefore acknowledge and agree that Harbour Family Law Ltd accept no liability whatsoever in contract, tort or otherwise for any loss of damage caused by or arising directly or indirectly in connection with any use or reliance on the contents of our website to the extent that such liability cannot be excluded by law.