No Fault Divorce – Two years on from this ground-breaking reform, our Family Law team reflects on its impact on the divorce process

April 28, 2024

As from the 6th April 2022, no-fault divorce law came into effect in England and Wales, meaning that divorcing couples no longer have to assign blame to each other to be able to end the marriage. This major development, welcomed by family lawyers, is part of a wider shake up of the divorce process under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020. It was undoubtedly the most significant update to the country’s divorce laws in almost fifty years.

Until this much-awaited reform, divorcing couple had to cite one of five key reasons for the break-up: 1. Adultery ; 2. Unreasonable behaviour 3. Desertion; 4.Living apart for two years and both parties agreed to the divorce; and 5.Living apart for five years – agreement was not required from the other party.  Adultery and unreasonable behaviour were the most commonly used in the absence of a long period of separation. Both involved an element of blame.

The Bates Wells & Braithwaite Family Law team reflects on the impact of this reform.

Managing Partner Denise Head begins: “The divorce laws had to change. The concept of blame, particularly in citing “adultery” conjures up an Edwardian age with sleuthing photographers lurking behind hedgerow waiting to catch a party in a compromising situation. However, there is still very much an emotional need to allocate blame. It is after all still very unusual for a couple to be entirely mutual when it comes to the decision to separate. The new regime takes away laying “blame” but not the fact that the more wounded partner thinks it should have an impact on the final settlement. Of course, it doesn’t (except rarely) but perhaps even more interestingly it never did! “Fault” may have allowed the divorce process to be triggered but almost never had an impact on the outcome. But it may take a few more years for that fact to permeate.”

Partner Scott Emsden continues: “My practice focuses mainly on children and I feel reasonably optimistic that dispensing with the negativity associated with the need for one spouse to bear the full brunt of the blame for the relationship breakdown, must surely be a healthier, kinder and more constructive start for two people separating, and most importantly, for the welfare of their children. I can’t say it happens in every case but I do believe the reform has helped at least some couples to focus on how to manage the transition for their children of living in one household to two. Anything that helps put a child’s needs first is a positive in my opinion.”

Consultant Nicky Coates joins in: “Those that opposed the reform were mainly concerned that “no-fault” would make divorce easier and quicker. The truth is that it hasn’t. There was an expected backlog of divorces as couples waited to take advantage of the new rules which caused a slight spike in 2022 but the fact is that divorce can now take longer than under the old regime owing to the statutory 20 week cooling off period.  Also sadly, the family courts continue to be crippled by delays which has nothing to do with the reforms but lack of funding. There was hope that backlogs could be helped by advances in online applications but as the recent story of the London law firm employee who accidentally opened the wrong file and irretrievably divorced the wrong couple by mistake – technology might not be the answer.”

No fault divorce may have reduced the need for blame but divorce is still a complex process taking place when parties are experiencing strong emotional disruption.  We can help guide you through the process and help you with a more constructive start to your new life.  Do get in touch.


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