What you need to know about the landmark no-fault divorce law

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No-fault divorce has finally been introduced in England and Wales, with the landmark law change coming into effect today as part of wider action to improve the family justice system.

The new law will allow married couples to divorce amicably without putting fault on either party, coming after years of campaigning by family rights groups and lawyers.

This is the first time in 50 years that divorce laws have been modernised, with the ruling declared "a long time coming".

The only previous ways to file for divorce without the agreement of a spouse were to live separately for up to five years, unless you could prove adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion.

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What is no-fault divorce?

“The advent of no-fault divorce is the biggest change to impact marital or civil partnership breakdown in decades," Julian Hawkhead, a senior partner at Stowe Family Law, explained of the landmark moment. "The Divorce Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, after years of campaigning by various stakeholders in and around the world of family law, brings about the removal of blame or the requirement to live separately for at least two years as reasons for divorce."

When will no-fault divorce begin in UK?

"The new changes take effect from today, 6 April 2022," explained Hawkhead. "And it is hoped will bring about a paradigm shift in the way separating couples approach the process of divorce."

It is also hoped that the modernising of such laws will help people who have been previously trapped in abusive marriages due to the gaps in the previously outdated divorce laws.

"The changes to divorce law are really positive for victims of domestic abuse," explained Elaine Parker, CEO & Founder at Safer Date Ltd. "Until now, abusers have used the pitfalls of divorce law to trap victims in the marriage because they were able to contest the allegations. Because the need to make allegations about the other spouse has been removed, this is no longer an option for perpetrators."

She continued: "For years the law has held victims back from escaping violent marriages and allowed abusers to coerce them into staying. It’s finally been recognised how outdated the original law is and we’re pleased to see these changes implemented."

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Will no-fault divorce law make divorce easier?

"It needs to be said that this simplification of the legal process is not making it easier to get a divorce," Julian Hawkhead explained. "There is and never has been such a thing as a 'quickie divorce', a phrase often used by the media and much maligned by people working in family law.

"The new process will take at least six months to conclude with a waiting period of 20 weeks from the date of issuing the divorce application before the applicant, or with the new law, both parties as joint applicants can apply for the conditional order. This period gives the couple time to pause and reflect on their marriage and focus on addressing the practical arrangements that need to be made, such as agreeing on arrangements for any children and making progress towards a financial settlement.

"Parties will be actively encouraged to reach an agreement wherever possible, using mediation and other out of court dispute options where possible."

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Will no-fault divorce law mean the end of family lawyers?

"Not at all," explains Julian Hawkhead. "For many years family lawyers have recognised that the reasons given for a couple separating have had little if any material impact on the future plans and arrangements that need to be made following their divorce. That one spouse or civil partner behaved in such a way that the other party could no longer be reasonably expected to live with them would not itself be a factor in separating financial resources or making arrangements for the children.

"As a family lawyer for over 20 years, I have seen many clients who have focused so much on their past, that it created a distraction and shifted focus away from resolving the important issues that needed to be addressed. Anchored to the past, separating couples can often find themselves unable to move forwards either emotionally or practically.

"Whilst no fault divorce will not ease the pain that people feel when their marriages or civil partnerships end," Julian Hawkhead concluded. "It will hopefully help them get through the legal process of separation with less emotional and financial cost and help prepare them for the next chapter of their lives."

We will continue to update this story.

Jenny Proudfoot
Features Editor

Jenny Proudfoot is an award-winning journalist, specialising in lifestyle, culture, entertainment, international development and politics. She has worked at Marie Claire UK for seven years, rising from intern to Features Editor and is now the most published Marie Claire writer of all time. She was made a 30 under 30 award-winner last year and named a rising star in journalism by the Professional Publishers Association.