The biggest shake-up in divorce law in 50 years will allow couples to divorce or dissolve a civil partnership without one of them attributing blame to the other.
There is widespread support, including from legal professionals and judges, to end the need for couples to blame one another for the breakdown of their marriage or civil partnership, bring the law in line with modern-day life and accept the fact that some couples just drift apart and don’t want to blame each other.
Until 6 April 2022, if a couple does not want to attribute blame, the shortest amount of time of separation before one person can petition for a divorce or dissolution of civil partnership is two years – as long as there is consent from both. Without consent, there needs to be five years’ separation before one can petition.
This has led to many couples claiming unreasonable behaviour in their petitions. In the period 2016 – 2018, almost half of all divorce petitions were based on unreasonable behaviour, according to The Office for National Statistics (ONS).
New, no-fault divorce rules will mean that:
- spouses/civil partners won’t have to claim one of the five facts (adultery, unreasonable behaviour, two-year separation with consent, five-year separation without consent or desertion) to petition for a divorce
- one or both of a couple can make a statement saying that the marriage has irretrievably broken down – currently only one spouse/civil partner can file for divorce/dissolution
- the other spouse/civil partner will not be able to contest the divorce unless it is based on legal validity, jurisdiction, fraud, coercion or procedure
- legal jargon will be removed, and the language made easier. The decree nisi will become the conditional order, the decree absolute will become the final order and the petitioner (the person who submits the application) will become the applicant.
- there will need to be 20 weeks between the application date and the court granting the conditional order
- there will be a minimum period of six weeks between receiving the conditional order and applying for final order – this is the same as the current situation
No-fault divorce will eliminate situations, such as that of the widely publicised case of Owens v Owens, in which Tini Owens petitioned for divorce on the basis of unreasonable behaviour as her husband had behaved in a way that meant she could not reasonably be expected to live with him. He contested the divorce and it was denied in court. The case went to the Court of Appeal, but it was denied again, although judges at that court said they had ‘uneasy feelings’ – but could do nothing until Parliament changed the law. Ms Owens had to wait for five years to petition for her divorce, which would not be the case under the new rules, where her husband would not be able to contest her application.
Financial issues are not covered by the new law. They will continue to be dealt with separately to the divorce.
Bradie Pell, partner and head of Graysons’ family team says:
“New legislation is well overdue. Couples have been waiting until April so that they can apply for a divorce without having to put blame on their partner. Attributing blame often leads to additional stress and acrimony in the long run. The new law will hopefully allow couples to separate more amicably – and be less costly and complex when one person has contested the divorce – and focus clearly on moving on with their lives more quickly.”
For further information on divorce, dissolution or separation, visit our family law web pages at or, if you would like to discuss a family law issue, call our experts now. We can arrange a fixed-fee one-hour meeting in which we can discuss your individual issues, give you an overview of the law relating to your case, advise what the next steps can be and what the cost implications will be.