Adrian Clossick, Stewarts

Making the decision to get a divorce is never an easy one, and going through the process can be very difficult, no matter the reason for it.

But did you know that the landscape for separated couples is changing, with divorce law set to undergo a dramatic shake up?

Long-awaited reforms that were originally planned to come into effect this autumn have been pushed out until spring 2022. This new legislation is known as no-fault divorce and has been coined by many as ‘the end of the blame game’.

Adrian Clossick, head of the Divorce and Family department at Stewarts’ Leeds office, discusses no fault divorce, the changes due to be implemented in spring 2022, and the benefits of this legislation for separated couples.

What is no-fault divorce?

No-fault divorce is the first major divorce law reform since the 1970s. The law will put an end to couples being forced to find blame in one party for the marriage breaking down.

The Act was passed in June 2020 and the changes were originally set to be implemented from autumn 2021. It has since been announced that the government is working on a new commencement date of 6th April 2022.

What does it mean for separated couples?

Come spring 2022, couples will no longer need to prove one of the five facts as set out in current divorce legislation:

  • Adultery
  • Desertion
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Two years separation with consent
  • Five years separation without consent

Instead, the new law will retain the sole ground of divorce being that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, but the need to specify one of the five “fault based” facts will be removed, replacing  it with a statement that the marriage has broken down irretrievably, and there will be no requirement of proof. This will put an end to any blame needing to be given for the marriage breakdown.

The emphasis of no-fault divorce is to encourage a constructive approach to separation and focus on reconciliation, reflection and trusting the judgment of the couple wishing to file for divorce.

No-fault divorce will reduce conflict to allow couples to focus on important issues like children, property and finances.

The new legislation will:

  • Replace the ‘five facts’ with a new requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown
  • Remove the possibility of contesting the divorce
  • Introduce an option for a joint application

These changes will also apply to the dissolution of civil partnerships.

Legal terminology changes

If you are finding yourself struggling with legal terminology around divorce, this is also set to undergo a change under no-fault divorce.

The new legislation is also set to make sure language around divorce is in plain English. Examples include:

  • The petitioner will now be called the applicant
  • Changing ‘decree nisi’ to conditional order
  • Changing ‘decree absolute’ to final order

No-fault divorce benefits

There are several benefits of a no-fault divorce, including:

  • It removes blame
  • It better reflects modern relationships
  • It is more current and up to date
  • It negates the need to fit one of the ‘five facts’ into the reason for the marriage breakdown
  • It is a more simplified process
  • It removes the option to contest the divorce

Adrian Clossick, Head of the Divorce and Family department at Stewarts Leeds office, said: “The current law forces those whose marriage is over to blame the other for the breakdown if they are not prepared to wait for a minimum of two years after separation to divorce. If the other spouse does not agree to the divorce, that period is extended to five years.

Very few clients wish to wait that long. They therefore find themselves having to blame the other party’s adultery or unreasonable behaviour to obtain an immediate divorce, whether or not that reflects the reality of the reasons for their separation. This can polarise positions and amp up emotions.”

How can I cope?

If you are separated and awaiting the no-fault divorce legislation to commence next spring, there are several ways to help cope through the difficult adjustment:

Use support networks

This period is challenging, mentally, emotionally and physically, and it is important to share your feelings with friends and family to help you get through this period. Other options include joining a support group where you can share feelings with those going through a similar situation.

Avoid isolation

Isolating yourself, particularly during difficult situations like separation and divorce, can raise stress levels, impact concentration and cause barriers with work and relationships, as well as mental and physical health.

Take care of yourself

Ensure you are good to yourself and your body. Ensure you are taking time out to exercise, eat a well-balanced diet and factor in vital periods of relaxation. Try and stick to your normal routine as much as possible, and try to avoid making any major additional decisions or changes.

Be positive

While it will be challenging at times, try and approach this period positively by embracing new activities, spending time with new sets of friends and moving forward with reasonable expectations to help make the transition easier.

The landmark law changes are set to transform the divorce law landscape for separated couples significantly in the future.

Adrian added: “The change in the law has been supported by the majority of divorce lawyers as it is bringing divorce law into the 21st century. Removing the need to blame the other spouse for the breakdown of the marriage will hopefully result in a more dignified process for all concerned and enable divorcing spouses to focus on resolving the real issues between them. In short, the change should make the divorce process kinder.”

This piece was written by Adrian Clossick, Head of Divorce and Family at Stewarts Leeds office, the UK’s leading litigation-only law firm.

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