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How will no fault divorce change the domestic landscape?

Family Matters

In June 2020, MPs voted in favour of a ‘no fault’ divorce bill in England and Wales. The new bill will come into effect in 2022, after a period of careful consideration on its implementation.

What is no fault divorce?

Currently in England and Wales, divorce requires one spouse to file for divorce, and they must state an accusation about the other’s conduct. There are three reasons that can currently be stated – adultery, unreasonable behaviour, or desertion. The system is fault-based and requires evidence of guilt from one party, often causing tension and distress during the divorce process. If evidence is unable to be provided, the couple must live separately for two years before the divorce can be legally dissolved, even if the decision is mutual.

If one person in the couple contests the divorce, this period is extended to five years before they will be considered eligible for divorce.

No fault divorce will mean that a couple can mutually cite ‘irretrievable breakdown’ as the sole grounds for wanting to divorce. This can be done as an individual or as a joint statement and will not require either person to present evidence of bad behaviour. If an individual applies for divorce citing no fault, the other person will not be able to contest the divorce. The two-stage process of the decree nisi and decree absolute stages will continue as normal.

What is the benefit of no fault divorce?

Whilst most divorces are handled and carried out amicably, the need to cite ill behaviour can cause some lingering ill feeling. It is thought by legal firms and support charities that the new law will help put children first in divorce proceedings, and position couples better for a long-term relationship when they have children together, whilst better reflecting modern society.

What will be the impact of no fault divorce?

There has been much speculation about the impact of the new bill on families in the UK and whether it will lead to more divorces. It has also been suggested that it will be a new ‘Quickie Divorce’, however in fact one of the intentions of the Bill is to make the process from the start of the divorce to the end of the divorce longer. We discuss this in our article Will Divorces under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill be quicker than they are currently?

Will there be an increase in the number of divorces?

As no fault divorce cannot be contested, and ill behaviour does not have to be proven, the number of divorces seen on the UK landscape could feasibly increase. However in Scotland, where no-fault divorce after one year of living apart was introduced in 2006, although there was an initial increase in divorces, the long-term divorce rate was unaffected by reforms to the law.

Although the number of divorces did not seem to be affected by the change in the law, the Office of National Statistics did find that the reasons cited for divorce in 2015 in Scotland did change significantly, with just 6% of divorcing couples relying on the fault-based grounds of adultery or unreasonable behaviour, whereas in England and Wales it was 60%.

How will financial settlements be affected?

The introduction of no-fault divorce in the UK is a relatively new concept and the topic of finance remains a grey area. However, it’s likely that assets will continue to be split amongst the parties as they always have been, as current ‘blame’ divorce does not tend to impact how assets are divided. Therefore, as no-fault divorce will make divorce easier, and cannot be contested, it’s essential to have strong legal representation to ensure key assets and finances are ringfenced or protected.

How Hegarty Solicitors can help

Although no-fault divorce is not expected to come into practice until spring 2022, it is good to have some background knowledge on the subject. Our friendly legal experts can talk you through the available options to help you achieve the best outcome possible. Our solicitors can advise you on amicable and non-confrontational methods of reaching a solution to important issues on the breakdown of a relationship.

Whether you’re looking to get married and need to draw up a prenuptial agreement, or if you’re looking for legal representation for your divorce, the Hegarty team handles all Family Law cases with empathy, clarity and in the best interests of our client. For more information, get in touch with the team for a trusted, confidential chat.

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