Family and children

No-fault divorce

The government’s Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will reform the divorce process to remove the concept of fault. Many legal professionals feel current divorce law is out of date, particularly following the 2018 Owens v Owens case

The Act was passed in June 2020 and the government is working on implementation of the changes.

The new legislation will:

  • replace the ‘five facts’ with a new requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown
  • remove the possibility of contesting the divorce
  • introduce an option for a joint application
  • make sure language is in plain English, for example, changing ‘decree nisi’ to conditional order and ‘decree absolute’ to final order

These changes will also apply to the dissolution of civil partnerships.

Our view

We support legislation to introduce no-fault divorce. No-fault divorce will reduce conflict, allowing couples to focus on important issues like children, property and finances.

We also support:

  • joint petitions
  • the principle of a divorce based on the statement of irretrievable breakdown of marriage

We believe the legislation could be clearer, fairer and more accessible by reviewing:

  • the notice period – it should start when a partner receives their spouse’s divorce application (date of service) rather than from the start of proceedings (when one spouse applies for divorce)
  • financial proceedings – if financial proceedings (Form A) have started, no final order should be granted until a financial order has been made if either party might suffer financial prejudice by a final decree before the final financial settlement
  • court fee costs – the new online divorce system will cut administration costs for the courts, so this should be reflected in application fees
  • the period of reflection – there should be a three-month reflection period at the beginning of the divorce proceedings to allow separating couples time to consider their situation and get the legal advice they need. Domestic violence applications or applications that relate to children in a divorce should be available during this reflection period

The government should also reintroduce legal aid for early advice to support divorcing couples and help them understand their financial responsibilities and the needs of their children.

We believe the current court fee of £550 for divorce applications is too high and discriminates against those less able to afford it. Court fees should be reduced to reflect the fact that the new process will require less administration.

Read the consultation on the MoJ website, our response and the government response.

What this means for solicitors

The proposed changes should simplify current practices and reduce conflict between couples. We expect any changes to the process will be fairly easy for solicitors to implement.

Although the act received Royal Assent in June 2020, the reforms have not yet come into force. The government is still working on implementing the changes. No fault divorce is expected to be introduced in autumn 2021.

What we're doing

Get involved

The MoJ’s consultation is now closed. If you would like to get involved in our work on this topic you can find out more about our Family Law Committee.

Get involved in our early advice campaign.

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