After decades of debate and campaigning, England and Wales will finally see the introduction of a no-fault divorce process from April 2022.
The introduction of no-fault divorce will remove the need for couples to prove that their marriage has broken down citing one of five accepted reasons. These are:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Separated for two years – with both parties agreeing to the divorce
- Separated for five years – with or without agreement
Under the current law, the only means for couples to divorce amicably is to separate for two years and then mutually agree to get divorced. This hasn’t always been practical for many couples and can add extra complications to the division of financial assets and making childcare provisions.
The new law will make the process simpler, removing the element of blame, and allowing couples to move towards divorce after waiting for 20 weeks.
What will the new law mean in practice?
The new divorce law simplifies the process. One or both partners can petition for divorce, there then follows a 20 week ‘period of reflection’ during which couples will be expected to agree on the financial and childcare aspects of their separation.
At the end of this period, unless both parties no longer wish to be divorced, then a divorce will be granted.
How will this impact on divorce rates?
The possibility of ‘no-fault’ divorce was first touted during the 1990s when government reforms looked to simplify the process of divorce in England and Wales. At the time, there was a great deal of resistance to the concept against a backdrop of rising divorce rates. Many groups, often but not exclusively, religious in character argued that removing fault from the divorce process would make divorce too easy.
In turn, this would undermine the sanctity and importance of marriage as an institution. As a result, no-fault divorce was placed on the backburner for a number of decades. From April 2022, a no-fault divorce will be available in England and Wales.
Some people are predicting that the number of people getting divorced may increase. Initially, this is believed to be the case as many people who have been considering divorce may well be holding off until the simpler system comes into effect.
This was the case when a no-fault system was introduced into Scottish law in 2006. Following the introduction of the changes, there was a noticeable increase in divorce rates. In 2005, there were 10,875 divorces granted in Scotland, rising to 13,102 in 2006. By 2017, however, the divorce rate had fallen to 6,766.
In England and Wales, the divorce rate has fallen by 30% since 2003. Couples now marry later and are more likely to cohabit prior to getting married. Many couples who would have previously married now separate prior to reaching that stage. This trend is unlikely to be impacted by the changes in law, which should hopefully make the divorce process less stressful for those couples who do reach that stage.