‘No-fault’ divorce: What’s changed two years on?

A landmark change to family law was brought in two years ago when ‘no-fault’ divorce was implemented to support separating couples to divorce more amicably.

Now the dust has settled, how is it working in practice and what additional obstacles are facing the justice system?

The latest government data shows that between October to December 2023, there were 23,517 divorce applications. Of these, 75% were from sole applicants and 25% from joint applicants, including for the dissolution of civil partnerships.

Throughout 2023, there were 110,770 divorce applications and 103,501 final orders*.

Law Society of England and Wales president Nick Emmerson said: “The family law system saw a welcome change two years ago when ‘no-fault’ divorce came into effect.

“Separating couples no longer need to prove a fault-based fact against their ex-partner and this can support them to divorce more amicably.

“Our members tell us that while many couples are still not aware of the changes in the law, they are happy when they know about them.

“Separating couples are also driven by wanting to sort out their financial situation, but they are unaware they need to start divorce proceedings first in order to get a conditional order** to lodge papers for court approval.

“Early advice would help couples to understand how to navigate the process and ensure the courts receive the right documentation at the right time.”

While the law has improved, the family court system is under immense pressure, with unprecedented and unacceptable delays.

In October to December 2023, the mean average time for a divorce to be finalised was 69 weeks (one year and three months), up two weeks from the same quarter in 2022.

Nick Emmerson concluded: “‘No-fault’ divorce ushered in a new era for divorcing couples. However, today, delays to the justice system are causing significant harm, inconvenience and uncertainty for divorcing couples, particularly when children are involved.

“HM Courts and Tribunals Service has estimated that it may take three years to return to pre-pandemic levels of service. This is very worrying, especially for those cases that involve children and sensitive family matters.

“The government must restore early advice for family matters under legal aid and ensure there are sufficient fee-paid and full-time judges to deal with existing and new cases.

“The family justice system is at breaking point. People can’t get the legal support they need, when they need it.”

Notes to editors

Read the Ministry of Justice’s Family Court Statistics Quarterly: October to December 2023

* A final order means you are legally divorced and your marriage is at an end.

** A conditional order is a document that says the court does not see any reason why you cannot end your marriage or civil partnership.

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