No-fault divorce: Everything you need to know about the new laws

The reforms will allow couples to end their marriage jointly, without pointing the finger of blame.

Jemma Crew
Tuesday 05 April 2022 11:59
The reforms are intended to reduce the impact that allegations of blame can have (Andrew Matthews/PA)
The reforms are intended to reduce the impact that allegations of blame can have (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The biggest shake-up of divorce laws in half a century comes into effect this week.

But what does it mean, and why is it happening?

Here the PA news agency sets out what you need to know about the introduction of “no-fault” divorces.

– What is changing? 

The reforms will allow couples to end their marriage jointly, without pointing the finger of blame.

They will no longer be able to make allegations about the conduct of a spouse, instead they can make a statement of irretrievable breakdown, either individually or together.

This of itself will be “conclusive evidence” that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

There will be a new minimum period of 20 weeks, for “meaningful” reflection, between starting proceedings and applying for a conditional order.

The reforms are intended to simplify the process and remove unnecessary conflict, enabling couples to focus on the future (Anthony Devlin/PA)

It will no longer be possible to contest a divorce, except on limited grounds.

– What did the existing law say?

Until now, people seeking divorce have had to give evidence of at least one of five facts to establish the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

Three of these involve “fault” – “unreasonable behaviour”, adultery and desertion. The final two are two years separation if the other spouse consents to the divorce, and five years separation if they do not.

The law did not require any minimum period of time before the granting of a conditional order.

– Why is it being introduced? 

The reforms are intended to reduce the impact that allegations of blame can have on a separating couple and their children.

They are intended to simplify the process and remove unnecessary conflict, enabling couples to focus on the future.

The 20-week minimum period will give some couples the chance to reconsider if divorce is the right move, while in cases where divorce is inevitable it provides greater opportunity for them to co-operate and agree practical arrangements for the future. – How long has this been in the works? 

In September 2018 the Government announced proposals to end the blame game for separating couples, and launched a 12-week public consultation to seek views on its plans.

It followed the high-profile case of Tini Owens, who lost a Supreme Court fight earlier that year after failing to convince judges that her “loveless” 40-year marriage should end.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill was first introduced in June 2019, and passed in 2020, with the legislation due to come into effect on Wednesday.

– When does it begin? 

A new online system for divorce goes live at 10am on Wednesday April 6.

People will be able to continue to apply on paper.

Legal experts expect there to be a temporary spike in applications, with some couples waiting for the new system to begin before starting proceedings.

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