Quiz question – for how long have married couples or those in civil partnerships been able to legally separate under ‘no-fault’ rules in the UK?

You’d be forgiven if you’ve answered something in the range of five, maybe even 10 years. It’s a concept that has been kicking around for a good long while. But the actual answer is since April 2022.

That’s when The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 finally came into law, having been long delayed by political matters such as Brexit, a couple of general elections and then by COVID-19. It was the culmination of decades of debate in family law circles for decades about the pitfalls of blame being a condition of divorce.

What came before no-fault divorces?

Prior to April 2022, divorce would only be granted if the two parties were able to prove an “irretrievable breakdown” in their relationship. And the legal definition of “irretrievable breakdown” was built around the idea that at least one of the parties must have done something wrong to cause the breakdown.

In total, the courts would consider five grounds as evidence of an irretrievable breakdown – adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, or five years living separately initiated at the behest of one partner only, or two years separation with consent from both parties.

So in other words, four of the five legally acceptable grounds for seeking a divorce were grounded in finding fault in the behaviour of one or both parties. The only ‘no-fault’ option was to agree to separate and live apart for two years before you could apply for divorce.

How have no-fault divorces changed the landscape

The most significant change the new law has introduced is that it doesn’t require anyone to ‘prove’ anything in divorce proceedings. All you have to do is say your relationship has broken down, you don’t see any way back and you want out.

This can be done by both parties mutually. But it can also be just one half of the couple. This is a very progressive step forward, and one that has been welcomed by domestic abuse and women’s rights campaigners in particular. In the past, if just one half of a couple wanted to divorce, the onus was on them to prove blame in the other party. This could be contested, trapping people in unhappy and potentially abusive relationships.

Now, either party is able to file for divorce, either through a solicitor or through an online government portal. This will register the application with the courts. The cost of making an application is £593.

There is a mandatory minimum 20-week period between filing for divorce and conditional orders being made. This is intended to act as a ‘cooling off’ period to give people time to reconsider and not jump into divorce too hastily. But once that period is over and if the person applying for divorce still wants to proceed, the application for divorce cannot be contested.

While obtaining a divorce has become much easier, this does not affect other matters such as custody arrangements for children and dividing shared finances and property. It is still strongly advised to seek legal advice on these matters when considering divorce.

Get in touch with Walsh Solicitors to find out more.