Married couples can now apply for a ‘no fault divorce’, but what does it actually mean and how will the changes impact women?

Choosing (or agreeing) to get a divorce can be a painful, life-changing decision, which is often followed by practical uncertainties about childcare, distribution of assets, and the cost of legal fees. 

Under previous legislation, which had been in place for nearly 50 years, couples who applied for divorce –that is, a legal dissolution of their marriage – had to cite at least one of the following factors as the cause of their marital breakdown: unreasonable behaviour; adultery; five years of separation without consent; two years of separation with consent or desertion.

In other words, the couple had to either wait at least two years before they could get divorced, or they had to attribute blame (adultery, unreasonable behaviour), where, in many cases, there was none. 

Thankfully, from today (6 April 2022) couples can now apply for a ‘no fault divorce’, meaning a divorce can be granted in a quicker time period – without either spouse having to cite blame. GLAMOUR spoke to Adele Pledger, a family lawyer at Withers LLP to find out everything you need to know about no fault divorces. 

What was the previous law around divorces? 

Adele explains that, under the previous law, “unless couples want to wait two or five years to divorce after separating, which most don’t – they want to crack on with it, one of them has to petition on the basis of either the other person’s adultery or unreasonable behaviour and they have to set out examples of that behaviour (even if the divorce is a mutual and amicable decision!).”

The next thing couples wishing to divorce had to contend with was the long waiting period. “If both parties consent to the divorce,” explains Adele, “the petitioner [the spouse who filed for divorce] goes ahead and applies for decree nisi (which is usually processed by the court in a couple of months), and then has to wait six weeks from decree nisi before they can apply for decree absolute. 

“The whole process usually takes around four-to-six months, although typically people hold off applying for decree absolute until there is a financial order.”

Why did the divorce laws change? 

Adele notes that divorce can be a traumatic experience, arguing that couples “need and deserve a system that works for them, not one that exacerbates an already highly emotional and difficult situation by forcing one (the ‘petitioner’) to list the reasons why for them, the behaviour of their soon to be ex-spouse (the ‘respondent’) was so unreasonable it caused the marriage to break down.” 

She adds, “The respondent may feel aggrieved by what the petitioner has written and want to defend the divorce as a matter of principle, or in cases of domestic violence, to exercise further coercive control, or the petitioner may have alleged a criminal offence (such as rape or violence) meaning that the respondent felt compelled to defend to protect his/her position in respect of any criminal proceedings.”

Finally, the previous system usually ended up being incredibly draining for all involved. Adele explains, “getting divorced is expensive (the court fee alone is over £500) and can be a highly-charged administrative process.