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No-fault divorce

9 April 2019

The government plans to 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 Many legal professionals feel current divorce law is out of date, particularly following the 2018 Owens v Owens case.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 Ministry of Justice issued a consultation on its plans in September 2018. The consultation closed in December 2018. In April 2019 the government published its response to the consultation and confirmed that it would go ahead with the planned changes by introducing new legislation.

Following reform, a couple or one party would only need to notify the court that their marriage has irretreivably broken down. The ‘five facts’ would be removed:

  • adultery
  • behaviour that makes continuing to live together unreasonable
  • desertion
  • separation of more than two years (if spouse agrees to the divorce)
  • separation of at least five years (if spouse disagrees with the divorce).

The government also plans to:

  • allow couples to give notice jointly
  • allow joint applications to become sole applications (and vice versa)
  • remove the ability for one person to contest a divorce
  • retain the two stage process of decree nisi and decree absolute
  • introduce a minimum timeframe of six months from petition to decree absolute
  • modernise the language used in the divorce process.

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

Our view

We support this reform to remove blame and simplify the process.

No-fault divorce would reduce conflict, allowing couples to focus on important issues like children, property and finances.

We believe the government should review the divorce process as a whole and make sure that it is easier for people to understand and navigate.

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

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.

We will update you on the progress of any legislation.

What we're doing

  • April 2019 - we welcomed the government’s plans to introduce the reforms through new legislation.
  • December 2018 - we responded to the MoJ consultation to give our views on the government’s reform plans.
  • July 2018 - Supreme Court ruling on Owens v Owens. Ministry of Justice says it will look at reforms.
  • March 2018 - we commissioned research, Priced Out of Justice?, which found that the legal aid means test is preventing families in poverty from accessing justice.
  • March 2017 - we advised members on the implications of Owens v Owens and lobbied government about the need for change.
  • 2012 - most free or subsidised early legal advice was stopped by the government. We are campaigning for legal aid to be reintroduced for early advice, particularly in family law.
  • 1996 to 2019 - we continued to support solicitors and work for improvements to family law and through our Family Law Committee.
  • 1996 - we supported proposals for divorce reform that became part of the Family Law Act 1996, although these were later repealed.

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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