Can You Contest A No-fault Divorce?

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From April 2022, the process through which couples will be able to obtain a divorce marking the formal legal dissolution of their marriage or civil partnership will be changing.

After decades of debate and discussion, the law in England and Wales will allow for so-called ‘no-fault’ divorce. This will streamline the divorce process, update some of the language used, and remove the need to prove fault under a number of different criteria.

Crucially, it will allow for divorce proceedings to begin when either one or both partners decide that there has been an irretrievable breakdown in the relationship.

Will you still be able to contest a divorce under the new law?

Under the current system, one person submits a divorce petition and will cite their spouse’s behaviour or a period of separation as the reason for divorce. The spouse is then allowed time to contest this or to agree that the relationship has irretrievably broken down. In some cases currently, a spouse may successfully contest the divorce. These cases are limited and most cases will progress to decree absolute. Statistics show that only around 1% of divorce cases are successfully contested.

Under the new law, the right to contest a divorce will be removed.

Will the new system allow for a period of reflection?

Under the new system, if someone is concerned that their partner may be about to petition for divorce which they personally feel is premature, then they will still have time to try and find an amicable way forward.

Once a petition has been filed a minimum timeframe of 20 weeks (4.6 months) will need to be passed before the divorce can be granted. This requirement has been added to ease concerns that the new law might lead to ‘quickie’ divorces rather than giving couples an opportunity to reflect and work through their differences before moving to divorce.

The new divorce process will still be two-stage, with decree nisi becoming known as a conditional order of divorce, and the decree absolute, becoming the final order of divorce.  Couples will also be able to enter into a separation agreement. This is a written agreement outlining the terms of the separation. While a separation agreement will not end the marriage, it can enable both people to agree on the terms of the separation.

Why is this being introduced?

It’s hoped that the new process will make it easier for couples to settle the terms of their divorce without finding themselves caught up in costly, stressful and long-winded court battles. It’s also been argued that the current law can inadvertently cause even more problems between a divorcing couple as it causes both of them to focus on the reasons for the breakdown, with one partner assigning blame to the other party.

So while the new law will not allow for a spouse to contest a no-fault divorce, it will allow time to for reflection and negotiation. In some cases, it’s likely that some divorce petitions may be withdrawn prior to a final order of divorce being granted.

For expert confidential advice regarding the changes to the divorce law and what this might mean for you, call 01244 506 444 today.

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Author Colin Freeman View Profile
Colin qualified as a solicitor in 1998. He specialises predominantly in family law, litigation / dispute resolution, wills, probate and settlement agreements and has notable cases reported in the Court of Appeal and High Court.
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