The Divorce, Separation and Dissolution Bill is back before Parliament this week. This was introduced in June 2019 and has been passed through the House of Commons, but has now been introduced to the House of Lords. It is expected that the bill will be passed and that “no fault” divorce will become the way forward for separating couples. The same changes will be made to the law governing the dissolution of a civil partnership.

What is no fault divorce?

Under the current legislation, couples wishing to divorce before they have been separated for two years or more must cite either unreasonable behaviour or adultery.   It is not enough to say that the marriage has broken down, or that both parties agree to a divorce.  The Petitioner has to allege fault and blame.

In practice, solicitors are aware of this and explain to clients that this is merely a means to an ends; keeping allegations of “unreasonable behaviour” relied upon to a minimum and recommending that parties do not name the person that their partner has committed adultery with, in order to reduce animosity between the parties.

Under the new legislation divorcing couples will simply be able to agree to a divorce, and no party need be at fault.

What will no fault divorce do?

Justice secretary Robert Buckland has said of the new legislation “by sparing individuals the need to play the blame game, we are stripping out the needless antagonism this creates so families can better move on with their lives.”

It is hoped that by introducing no fault divorce that the divorce process will become more straight forward. The new legislation will also remove the possibility of contesting a divorce.

It should be noted that under the new legislation the Decree Absolute (the final piece of paper in the divorce!) cannot be granted until at least 6 months have passed from the start of proceedings.  It is currently possible to conclude a divorce quicker than that where all concerned, including the Court office, process the paperwork at all stages promptly, but in practice divorces normally take longer than 6 months, particularly given that it is normally standard advice to ensure that financial matters are resolved prior to applying for the Decree Absolute.

What should you do?

The government has recently introduced online divorce to streamline the process of people obtaining a divorce themselves, without the need to instruct solicitors. If you are thinking of doing this, whether now or when no fault divorce comes in, we recommend that you still come and speak to us in relation to financial matters before getting the Decree Absolute. This is because, upon pronouncement or the Decree Absolute, you may lose out on state benefits, pension benefits, and any matrimonial restriction on the family home will cease.

If you do not resolve financial matters during the divorce process, by way of a legally binding order, then your claims against each other remain open for income, capital and pensions and either of you may apply to the Court in the future for a financial order. This means that if either of you win the lottery or receive an inheritance, the other may make try to make a claim over this.  Or if either of you has a change in circumstances, you may find that the other feels differently about how the finances have been divided.

If you have any questions regarding the above, or wish to speak to a member of our Family Department about getting a divorce or your financial matters, or any other aspect of family law, then please do not hesitate to contact us on 0118 975 6622 (Lower Earley office) or 01491 570900 (Henley-on-Thames office), or you can email us a query by clicking here.

Richard Rodway (Henley-on-Thames)

Julia Drury (Lower Earley)

Ruby Tufail (Lower Earley)