No fault divorce arrives in the UK from April 2022 – here’s everything you need to know
The long awaited ‘no blame divorce’ will come into effect from Wednesday, 6th April, meaning there’s now new grounds for divorce here in the UK. Sarah Ward – Partner in Family Law at HLN’s expert in residence, Samuel Phillips Law – explains why the change is so monumental for modern couples.
‘Divorce is like an amputation, you survive but there is less of you,’ – Margaret Atwood.
Ending a marriage is a life changing event. It brings with it many adjustments which may include the loss of a family home, loss of a second income, loss of a best friend, lover or confidante, and having to adapt to life as a single person, solo-parent and perhaps as the primary carer for the children.
By its very nature, divorce is a time of conflict. The intensity of conflict varies from case to case. High level conflict divorces typically include greater levels of ‘blaming’ – the parties become entrenched in blaming one another for what went wrong in the marriage.
The ‘blame game’ is hardly surprising, given our existing divorce legislation has been founded on ‘blame’ since it was first enacted in 1857.
WHY HAS DIVORCE INVOLVED BLAME?
Our current laws require the party seeking a divorce to persuade the court that their marriage has ‘irretrievably broken down’. How does someone achieve this? Well, unless relying on a separation of two or five years, an element of blame must be put on the other party. This is achieved by either listing examples of how appalling the other party has behaved, or by proving they have committed adultery (and it’s not that easy to prove someone has had sex with another person, unless they admit it!). So, the most common approach has been to list the bad behaviours of the other party.
The court then considers the allegations of bad behaviour and decides if the couple’s marriage has, in fact, irretrievably broken down; for fear a divorce may be refused, this can lead to an escalation in the allegations made by one party to improve their chances of achieving a divorce. This, in turn, often results in the other party threatening to contest the petition in a bid to exonerate themselves from blame. And so it goes on…
Divorce is difficult enough. The ‘blame game’ pits separating couples against one another from the outset – inflaming matters, resulting in delays and increased legal costs. The petition then sets the tone for an acrimonious divorce and, in some cases, has a truly poisonous effect. Whilst this sideshow continues, more important matters – such as reaching a financial settlement and agreeing the arrangements for the children – are largely ignored.
WHAT ARE THE NEW GROUNDS FOR A NO FAULT DIVORCE IN THE UK?
Divorce lawyers, including myself, have been campaigning for reforms to outdated divorce laws and an end to the blame game for many, many years. And, at last, radical new divorce laws are coming into force this Wednesday, 6th April.
So, on what basis will the court now grant a divorce? The new laws remove the requirement to prove to the court that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. Neither party will have to blame the other in order to divorce. Instead, a party (or the parties) simply confirm to the court that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. The court will now be required to accept that statement at face value and make a divorce order. Simple!
Eventually, some autonomy for divorcing couples who can now decide for themselves that their marriage has broken down, rather than being at the mercy of some judge that they have never met deciding for them.
As the ‘blame’ element has been removed, a divorce can now only be contested in the very rarest of cases. This is an empowering step, particularly for a person whose controlling partner is opposed to the marriage ending – they will no longer be able to contest it.
WHAT DOES A NO FAULT DIVORCE MEAN FOR COUPLES?
As a lawyer, I understand the benefit and the positive changes that these new laws will bring, having witnessed first-hand the untold and unnecessary misery and stress the requirement to engage in the ‘blame game’ has caused countless divorcing couples. Now, we can focus purely on their future.
The removal of blame has been much welcomed among the majority of my clients, many of whom have held off divorcing in recent months as they’ve waited for the new laws to come into effect.
Some clients have reacted differently. One such client expressed horror at the new laws, resentful that her husband – who has had an affair – is now ‘blameless’ for the breakdown of the marriage. An emotionally-charged petition – blaming the other for the breakdown of the marriage, whilst it makes no difference to any financial outcome – has been a cathartic process for an aggrieved party in the past, and brought about a degree of closure.
The new laws will not be without their smaller challenges. Regardless, they will bring long-overdue reform to archaic divorce laws and, I genuinely hope, will allow more divorcing couples to do so with dignity.
If you would like to find out more about these changes to the current laws surrounding divorce, or if you need any personal guidance about divorce, Samuel Phillips can offer initial advice in the strictest of confidence. To find out more, visit their website, follow them on Facebook or call the firm on 0191 232 8451
Samuel Phillips Law Firm, Floor 5, 18–24 Grey Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne NE1 6AE