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‘No-fault divorce’: what's changed two years on?

‘No-fault divorce’: what's changed two years on?


Analysis of 'no-fault' divorce implementation reveals improvements, but systemic obstacles hamper justice system efficiency

A landmark change to family law was brought in two years ago when 'no-fault' divorce was implemented to support separating couples to divorce more amicably. Now that the dust has settled, it's time to examine how this new system is working in practice and what additional hurdles the justice system faces.

Recent government data sheds light on the divorce landscape: between October to December 2023, there were 23,517 divorce applications, with 75% coming from sole applicants and 25% from joint applicants, including for the dissolution of civil partnerships. Throughout 2023, a total of 110,770 divorce applications were filed, resulting in 103,501 final orders.

Kate Clark, Head of Family at Mishcon de Reya, notes that following the implementation of 'no-fault' divorce, there was a notable increase in divorce applications compared to previous years. However, this surge was primarily driven by individuals who had already separated and were waiting for the new law to come into force before initiating divorce proceedings. Despite this initial influx, the overall number of divorces remained largely unaffected by the change in law.

The introduction of the no-fault system aligns more closely with the expectations of divorcing couples, eliminating the need to attribute blame and streamlining the process. Under the previous system, many individuals were unaware of the lengthy waiting period or the requirement to prove fault, creating unnecessary hurdles and delays. The shift towards a no-fault approach reflects a more modern and compassionate approach to divorce proceedings.

One significant benefit of the new system is the availability of joint divorce applications, allowing couples to mutually agree on the dissolution of their marriage. This collaborative approach fosters cooperation and empowers both parties to navigate the process together. Joint applications offer psychological and practical advantages, including a sense of shared decision-making and greater control over the timing and progress of the divorce.

While the no-fault system has been widely welcomed by clients and professionals in the Family Justice System, challenges persist within the broader legal landscape. Delays and backlogs continue to pose significant obstacles, particularly for divorcing couples with children involved. Clark emphasizes the importance of ongoing reforms and improvements to ensure timely and equitable access to justice for all parties.

The Law Society of England and Wales, highlights the positive impact of 'no-fault' divorce, noting that it eliminates the need for couples to prove fault-based facts against their ex-partners, thus facilitating more amicable divorces. However, he also notes a concerning trend: many couples remain unaware of the changes in the law and face obstacles in navigating the divorce process, particularly regarding financial matters.

While the introduction of 'no-fault' divorce marks a significant improvement in family law, challenges persist within the justice system. Delays have become commonplace, with the mean average time for a divorce to be finalised reaching 69 weeks in October to December 2023, up two weeks from the previous year. The Law Society emphasises that these delays are causing harm and uncertainty for divorcing couples, especially those with children involved.

In conclusion, the two-year milestone of 'no-fault' divorce marks a significant step forward in family law, promoting fairness, efficiency, and cooperation in divorce proceedings. While challenges remain, the ongoing commitment to reform and innovation offers hope for a more equitable and compassionate approach to resolving marital disputes in the years to come.