Divorce applications have surged by as much as 50 per cent since no-fault laws were introduced a week ago, according to new figures.
Data from the HM Courts & Tribunals Service shows around 3,000 divorce requests were made in the last week, which amounts to an average of 600 applications per day. This is substantially higher than the average of just over 2,000 weekly applications seen last year.
The long-delayed Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 came into force on Wednesday 6 April, after it was first promised in April 2018.
It eradicate the notion that one party in the couple is at fault or has committed some form of wrongdoing. As such, the application for divorce can no longer be contested under the new system.
The change will also mean couples will no longer be forced to prove they have been separated for two years, which was previously the only other way to file for divorce without assigning blame.
Carly Kinch, partner in the divorce and family team at Stewarts, told The Independent: “It’s no surprise there has been a flurry of applications since the new ‘no fault’ divorce regime was introduced last week.
“The change in the law has opened the doorway for couples to genuinely take a joint decision to divorce – an option that was previously unavailable unless there had been lengthy periods of separation. It is also no longer possible for one party to defend a divorce.”
Ms Kinch hailed the new divorce laws as a “long-awaited and much-welcomed landmark shift” in the process of getting a divorce.
She added: “It will be interesting to see, of these applications, how many were made on a joint basis, perhaps signalling a move and trend towards ‘conscious uncoupling’ versus those applications made on a sole basis by a party no longer afraid that their petition may be defended by the ‘blamed’ – and therefore likely more defensive – party.”
Sebastian Burrows, a managing partner at Stowe Family Law, said the new laws provide spouses with a “humane” way to leave their marriages.
The previous fault-based system necessitated “one-sided accusations of bad behaviour, adultery or years held in a broken marriage”, he said.
Mr Burrows added: “While it is widely accepted that many preparing to divorce waited for the arrival of no-fault divorce, leading to a surge in applications once it was available, the significant numbers support the case of the law reform too – that people wanted to be able to divorce without hostility. Why else would people wait?
“Those that were trapped in unhappy and unwanted marriages – that don’t involve bad behaviour or affairs – have now been provided with a humane exit route, highlighting the unnecessary distress and delay caused by the old blame-based system.”
Sarah Anticoni, a partner at Charles Russell Speechlys, said the initial rise in applications was “predictable” and forecast that demand would ease.
She said: “The initial surge in uptake in the first week of no-fault divorce was predictable as historical Office for National Statistics (ONS) statistics demonstrate such blips when there are any changes in the law. Clearly, some couples who were contemplating divorce held back the actual issuing of the court process, choosing to wait to use the new system.
“With divorce statistics being static, the surge is unlikely to be sustained over the year ahead. Overall, it’s important to bear in mind that people don’t decide to divorce because of law changes.”
While Hannah Gumbrill-Ward, solicitor in the family team at Winckworth Sherwood, said the fresh data appears to show “some people were holding out for the introduction of no-fault divorce before taking the plunge”.
She added: “It will be interesting to see how these figures pan out across the whole quarter, and whether this initial flurry slows down and levels out. Will the annual figures for 2022 see an increase because people wanted to avoid the blame game and start the process off on a more amicable footing? We will have to wait and see.”
Data from the ONS shows women have been more likely to initiate divorce proceedings against men in England and Wales since 1949 – with some 62 per cent of divorces between men and women in 2019 requested by the wife.
While this is the same amount as the year before, the gender disparity between men and women filing for divorce has decreased in recent years – falling 10 percentage points since the peak of 1992 when wives filed for 72 per cent of divorces.
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