A year ago this week, “no-fault divorce” was finally introduced in England & Wales. This marked a long-awaited and historic change to the legal system, being the biggest reform of divorce law seen in the last 50 years.
The new legislation was designed to improve the process for those wanting to get divorce. It has meant that divorcing couples, where there has been no adultery, no longer have to “blame” the other for the breakdown of the marriage or have to wait to get divorced, therefore making it easier for couples to dissolve their marriage without resorting to acrimonious legal battles.
As we approach the one year mark since this major change, we wanted to share our thoughts on the realities of the process, and how it has impacted our work and our clients.
So, what’s changed?
Prior to the introduction of “no-fault” divorce, couples were required to prove their marriage had irretrievably broken down by:
- Having been separated for two years (with both parties’ consent);
- Having been separated for five years (without both parties’ consent); or
- By relying upon one of the other grounds for divorce: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, or desertion.
Under the new “no-fault” divorce process, the party commencing the divorce process needs to provide a statement to the Court stating that their marriage has irretrievably broken down, without having to prove any of the above grounds. For full details on the no-fault divorce changes, see our previous article here. Divorcing couples can also apply on a joint basis (details of which are set out below).
We found that a number of our clients wanted to proceed using the “unreasonable behaviour” ground as this meant that they would not be required to wait two or five years before they could get divorced.
With the grounds now being removed, meaning that the party commencing the divorce process cannot rely on unreasonable behaviour, the need for one party to place blame on the other has been removed. In practice we have found that this has made for a much more amicable process, removing the animosity we often saw under the old process.
Divorcing couples also now have the option to file a joint application under the new legislation. We have found that this has proved popular with couples wishing to dissolve the marriage but where they are still on good terms. We are of the view that applying on a joint basis allows both parties to have equal control of the process which is often beneficial as it helps to remove the animosity.
Does the new process take longer?
The previous legislation was archaic and often made for a lengthy and sometimes difficult process albeit whilst the new process is a lot smoother, it is not much quicker.
The key part of the process which creates delays (which we didn’t see under the old regime) is the six month “cooling off period” between the initial application and the Final Order (which is the order ending the marriage). This six month cooling off period allows both parties a period of reflection and potential reconciliation. From our experience, we have not yet found that this six month period has had much of an impact but at least it gives divorcing couples the chance to reflect before taking such an irrevocable step.
Have you seen positive changes since the new legislation came into effect?
Yes, so far so good. The most positive change we have seen from this new legislation is the reduction in conflict and acrimony between divorcing couples.
We have found that this can make the process a lot less stressful and traumatic, which has seen an increase in couples being able to come to more amicable agreements on issues surrounding divorce such as child custody, financial settlements, and property division without the need for expensive, stressful and time-consuming Court battles.
From our experience of the new process over the past year, the introduction of no-fault divorce legislation is definitely a positive step in the right direction. We have found that it has already helped a number of our clients divorce in an amicable way and we hope that this continues moving forwards.
If you have any questions in relation to the above or generally please feel free to call our Family Team for a no obligation initial consultation on 01603 610911 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.