On 6 April 2022, the law changed in relation to applications for divorce. It is now possible to start divorce proceedings simply on the basis that the marriage has broken down. This is a massive shift from the old system and has been much anticipated by family lawyers and clients.
Today, I filed my first divorce application on behalf of a client under the new “no fault“ divorce rules. It felt strange to only have to indicate that the reason for the application was irretrievable breakdown of marriage. Under the “old” divorce law, a couple who had been separated for less than 2 years could only commence divorce by relying on a “fault” ground - either unreasonable behaviour or adultery. There were “no fault“ grounds under the old law, but this required a couple to be separated for at least 2 years and, if separated for less than 5 years, to be reliant upon the other spouse consenting to the divorce. This meant a couple, who maybe had been separated for a few months (as my client in today’s application) would either have to blame the other spouse for the breakdown of the marriage or wait 2 years for the 2 years separation with consent ground. Even if it was the case that neither spouse was in a rush to re-marry, the fact of having to wait for 2 years to commence the divorce application often meant they felt unable to fully move on with their lives. They were tied to each other financially, because the court cannot give effect to financial clean break until decree nisi stage of the divorce proceedings. A pension sharing order could not be made until the consent order was filed and could not be implemented until decree absolute. The couple remained tied to each other financially, even where they had separated amicably.
This led me to think, does this mean couples will separate more readily or that it will be “easier” to get a divorce? Certainly that is how it has been portrayed in the press, but in my experience (20 years as a family solicitor) if a couple wished to separate formally and finalise their finances, they would quite often resort to the “unreasonable behaviour” ground. Even if they kept the allegations mild and tried to agree them with each other in advance, it was still difficult for the respondent spouse to find themselves unable to put their side of a marital breakdown across in the divorce application. And even in the most amicable cases, this could lead to ill-feeling. Where there are young children involved and the couple remain in each other’s lives for a significant period of time, an unreasonable behaviour divorce petition could leave a sour taste.
The new system is, in my view, much kinder in its approach - it even allows for a joint application to be made (alongside the option of a sole application). Already, my experience of this one divorce application I have filed, it has a different feeling to it. I got the impression that the couple had felt much more comfortable approaching matters on a “no fault” basis. I have a number of clients who have waited for the new law to come into effect before looking to commence the divorce application. Over time, we will see whether there is an increase in divorce rates, but I cannot see that being the case. What I can see is it leading to more amicable separations.
For more information contact Angela Lally on 0113 247 3804 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org