No-fault divorce: Could it increase rates?

No-fault divorce: Could it increase rates?

In April 2022, changes to UK law will shake up the divorce sector. At the moment, the only way to seek a divorce is to lay blame on one party. But after these changes come into play, it will be possible to seek a divorce without placing blame. And the changes will also shorten the timelines for securing the divorce. These changes will apply to divorces and civil partnership dissolutions.

Critics of the changes say that this will devalue the sanctity of marriage. In addition, by making it easier to get divorced, some worry that couples will not think carefully about getting married because it will be much easier to split up. 

On the other hand, supporters of these changes believe that the changes will make it easier for couples to separate amicably, without a complete breakdown of their relationship. For couples with children, it could also help to make proceedings less contentious. 

By removing the need to blame, it is also thought that couples will avoid lengthy and drawn-out legal battles.

What do the current divorce rules say?

At the moment, a couple can only divorce after one year of marriage. Couples must also prove that their marriage has broken down by citing one of the following reasons, known as “facts”. Accepted grounds for divorce are:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • Separated for two years – with both parties agreeing to the divorce
  • Separated for five years  – with or without agreement

At the moment, the only way for couples to divorce amicably is to separate for two years and then mutually agree to get divorced. However, this isn’t practical for many couples. It can also complicate financial arrangements, including childcare provisions and how to divide pensions.

Once the divorce application has been submitted, couples have to wait six weeks and one day before applying for their decree absolute to end their marriage. In all, the process can take 4 to 6 months if there are no disagreements and much longer if the divorce is disputed.

How will the no-fault divorce change this?

With a no-fault divorce, a couple can apply together to end their marriage. This removes the need to place blame in an amicable divorce. It also means that couples don’t have to separate for two years before exploring this option.

To encourage couples to think carefully about if they want to end their marriage, a 20 week period of reflection will be introduced. While this might be longer than the six week and one day period between securing a decree nisi and the decree absolute, it could be shorter when considering the whole process.

Another fundamental change to the divorce system will be the removal of the option to contest a divorce. This means that if one person submits a petition to divorce and cite’s their spouse’s behaviour as the reason, they will no longer be able to contest the divorce.

Could these changes lead to higher divorce rates?

We don’t have to guess about the outcome of the introduction of no-fault divorce, as we can look to other countries to see how it has been implemented. For example, Scotland introduced a no-fault divorce in 2006.

Following the introduction of the changes, there was a spike in divorce rates, but this quickly fell. In 2005 there were 10,875 divorces, and this rose to 13,102 in 2006. By 2017, there were just 6,766 divorces.

The short-term spike could be simply a backlog of couples waiting for the new rules to come into play before seeking a no-fault divorce. So while we might see a short-term spike in divorces in April 2022, we don’t expect this to become the norm.