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‘No fault’ divorce’ set to become law

A Newport-based family lawyer is expecting a surge in enquiries this week from couples who have been waiting to split until the new ‘no-fault’ divorce law comes into effect on Wednesday.

Senior associate in Harding Evans’ Family Law department, Leah Thomas, said 6 April will be a historic day for couples wanting to separate.

After years of campaigning for the divorce process in England and Wales to be changed, a major reform is coming into effect to remove the concept of fault and the need to blame one of the parties. Described by the Law Society as “bringing UK divorce law into the 21st century,” the new law is being welcomed as a huge step forward by the legal sector.

Commenting on why this development represents such a huge landmark for separating couples, Leah Thomas said:“This is the biggest reform to divorce law in 50 years and will mark a real moment in history when the bill becomes law this week.

“In the short term, we are anticipating a spike in the volume of applications we see due to the number of couples who have been waiting for the new divorce laws to come into force before starting proceedings.

“In my opinion, these changes are long overdue as they will make divorce proceedings much less contentious.  The existing law was outdated and in no way reflected modern attitudes towards marriage or the realities of modern-day divorce. The fact is that many divorces these days are entered into and ended mutually, without any fault attributed to either side, so this change in the law will mean that no side ends up having to take the blame for the breakdown of the relationship.”

The main change is that divorce can now be granted without blame. The current list of five permissible ways to prove the breakdown of marriage has been replaced by a single mechanism. One spouse now has to provide a legal statement to say the marriage has broken down irretrievably and this counts as conclusive evidence and cannot be contested.

Under the new law, couples can also now make a joint application for divorce. The hope is that this will remove the in-built imbalance that often undermines couples’ attempts to split amicably.

The law lays down a minimum allowable period of 20 weeks between the initial application and the conditional order, and another six weeks between the conditional and final orders. This means that even the smoothest divorce will take at least six months to complete, compared with the current timeframe of three to five months.

Other changes that have been welcomed by family lawyers are that the new law will also make sure all language is in plain English, for example, ‘decree nisi’ will be changed to ‘conditional order’, ‘decree absolute’ to ‘final order’ and the ‘petitioner’ will now be the ‘applicant’. These changes will also apply to the dissolution of civil partnerships.

Leah continues: “As well as reducing unnecessary conflict and simplifying current practices, the no-fault divorce law will hopefully mean a more civilised, dignified divorce process. Needing or wanting to blame often creates increased animosity and an unnecessary distraction when the focus should be on reaching a resolution on the important issues, such as their children, property and finances, as quickly and painlessly as possible.

“The new law will also have the added benefit of not allowing domestic abusers to exercise coercive control and trap a spouse in a marriage for five years, by contesting it.”