New no-fault divorce rules could increase the time to end relationships

There is just under a month to go until the Government’s Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will come into force on 6 April 2022. It will finally end the need to apportion blame to one of the parties involved and is designed to reduce animosity through its new no-fault approach.

Under the current rules, which still apply for all petitions filed up to and including 31 March, the only grounds for divorce or dissolution, is that the relationship has irretrievably broken down, with the individual applying for divorce citing one or more of five facts reasons:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion (after two years)
  • Two years separation by consent
  • Five years separation (no consent needed).

It is clear that when citing adultery or unreasonable behaviour, the person seeking divorce is blaming their spouse for the irretrievable breakdown. Assigning blame in this way can lead to the spouse defending the divorce because they disagree with the reasons cited.

By introducing blame, tensions can be raised, the level of animosity can increase to the point where not only is the divorce difficult, but co-parenting can be extremely tough. The new law recognises that sometimes divorce or dissolution can be a joint decision, without the need for blame and the desire of some couple to move quickly to get on with their lives.

Until the new law is implemented on 6 April, a couple who have reached the end of their relationship amicably and do not wish to apportion blame, must wait two years after they separate by consent.

However, heralded as they are, the new laws have a potential drawback for some, as once the law changes, new timescales will be introduced that couples must comply with and these have the potential to slow things down.

From 6 April, there will be a mandatory minimum ‘cooling-off’ period of 20 weeks from the date the petition is issued, to the date at which the first formal stage of the divorce proceedings can be granted. For petitions issued up to 31 March, there is no such mandatory period.

The new ‘no-fault’ divorce process

The new law allows couples to apply for divorce without a reason or having to assign blame. In future all they will be required to do is draft a statement confirming their relationship has ‘irretrievably broken down’.

The new law will also introduce simpler terms to de-mystify the process. The Decree Nisi will be referred to as a ‘conditional order’ and the Decree Absolute will be known in future as a ‘final order’.

From 6 April, a couple will be able to make a joint application for divorce, but when just one spouse applies, the other can no longer defend a divorce petition or prevent the divorce, apart from in very specific circumstances.

The parties will have to wait for the ‘cooling-off’ period of 20 weeks, before the court will grant a conditional order, which although better perhaps than requiring blame to be laid at one party’s door, is unlikely to speed up the divorce process.

This time to reflect however, is a good opportunity to discuss arrangements relating to any children involved, if there are any, and also the financial side of the divorce, which is separate to divorce proceedings.

There will be many couples that decide to delay the application for the final order for divorce until a legally binding financial settlement has been agreed through voluntary negotiations or through the appropriate court process which is the case with the current law in any event.

Do you need to act now or wait?

We understand that deciding to end your relationship can be difficult and emotional. Although the new no-fault divorce law coming into force on 6 April 2022, might make the decision easier for you and your spouse, if your situation is untenable, there might be reasons to proceed straight away and in any event you will benefit from obtaining early legal advice.

Whatever you decide, you will find the entire process will be much less stressful with the help of our experienced Family Law solicitors by your side to guide, advise and sympathise. We can help you get it done, so please get in touch today on 01727845245 or email or