‘No-fault’ divorce: One year on
A year on since landmark marriage laws were implemented, the latest statistics show separating couples are making use of the new ‘no-fault’ divorce law. However, the family courts need to be better resourced to reduce delays for those waiting to finalise their divorce under the previous regime, the Law Society of England and Wales said.
“One year ago, the family law system saw its biggest change in 50 years when ‘no-fault’ divorce came into effect,” said Law Society President Lubna Shuja.
“Separating couples no longer have to prove a fault-based fact against their ex-partner and this can support them to divorce more amicably.
“We’ve seen that divorcing couples are making use of this new law.”
Applications submitted under the old fault-based legislation are still being processed alongside those under the new ‘no-fault’ law.
The latest data shows that in the nine months from when the new law came into effect, there were 89,123 divorce applications. 78% from sole applicants and 22% from joint applicants, including those for the dissolution of civil partnerships.*
In comparison, there were 77,449 divorce applications between April 2021 to December 2021, prior to the ‘no-fault’ law being introduced. **
The average time for divorce proceedings to be completed under both regimes increased to 38 weeks, up 13 weeks from the same quarter in 2021.
The public have had the option of digital divorce since 2018. In 2022, nearly all divorce applications were digital (94%), a massive increase compared to just 10% in 2019.
Lubna Shuja added: “Couples who applied for a divorce under the old legislation are too often still facing a long wait to receive their decree absolute (final divorce order).
"The good news is that solicitors tell us there are minimal delays for applications under the new law, using the digital system.
“The delays for applications under the old law to receive their decree absolutes are due to judicial availability and the way HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) is handling paper-based work, particularly via Bury St Edmunds.
“HMCTS has acknowledged these setbacks and put a recovery plan in place to reduce the delays.
“We know the family courts are facing challenges. However, delays can cause significant harm, inconvenience and uncertainty for divorcing couples, particularly when children are involved.
“HMCTS 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 ensure there are sufficient fee-paid and full-time judges to deal with existing and new cases.
“The family courts are under immense pressure, and people with private law cases are experiencing unprecedented and unacceptable delays.
“The family justice system is at breaking point. People can’t get the legal support they need, when they need it.
“We call on the government to invest in our system now, so that support is available immediately for those who need it in these turbulent times.”
Notes to editors
** The statistics for this figure are taken from Table 12 in the October to December 2022 family court statistics quarterly
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