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No-Fault Divorce Law In The UK – Frequently Asked Questions

No-fault divorce - Frequently Asked Questions

We still get a lot of calls and emails from people mixing up the old divorce law, where you had to blame the other party for adultery or other bad behaviour, and the newer no-fault divorce law. So, I thought it might be helpful to shine some light on each of them and answer the most frequently asked questions we receive about no-fault divorce in England and Wales.

What is a no-fault divorce?

The no-fault divorce came into effect at 12:01 a.m. on April 6, 2022. This means that all new divorces in England and Wales for the last 22 months (at the time of writing) are no-fault divorces.

A no-fault divorce means that separating couples are now able to get a divorce or civil partnership dissolution without having to blame each other for the breakdown of their relationship.

What is the difference between the new no-fault divorce law and the old law?

The main difference between the old law and the no-fault divorce law is that couples don’t have to blame each other for the breakdown of their marriage.

Under the old divorce law, a divorce application had to claim one of the following:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • Two years of separation with consent
  • Five years of separation without consent

Under the new no-fault law, you will no longer need to blame your spouse or have lived separately for at least two years. You can now get a divorce solely on the basis that their marriage has broken down.

This is great news for couples who don’t want to blame their partner or are in difficult situations where their spouse refuses to accept the circumstances.

What are the benefits of the no-fault divorce law?

The biggest benefit of the no-fault divorce law is that you no longer have to worry about your spouse contesting your divorce or dissolution, keeping you trapped in a loveless and even abusive marriage without costing you an absolute fortune in legal fees.

If one party believes the marriage has broken down, the court will no longer keep you together like they did under the old law.

Thousands of people were trapped in unhappy marriages with sometimes abusive partners under the old law. Most of this was hid behind closed doors like a dirty secret, but some hit the headlines, creating awareness and pressure for the laws to change.

In 2018, Tini Owens lost her Supreme Court battle to divorce her husband, forcing her to remain married against her will until 2020, when the five-year separation rule allowed her to get a divorce without her husband’s consent.

Tini Owens and High Owens (c) PA Archive/PA Images

The other major benefit of the no-fault divorce law is that it allows couples to apply for divorce jointly. Under the old divorce law, one spouse initiated divorce proceedings against the other. Under the no-fault divorce system, both people can make a joint application.

You don’t have to apply for a divorce jointly; it’s only an option. You can still file for divorce against your spouse; only the terminology (and the need to blame) has changed. Now, the person filing for divorce is known as the applicant (petitioner under the old law), and the person receiving the divorce papers remains known as the respondent.

If you are unsure if you want to file for divorce as an individual or a couple, you can read the pros and cons guide here

Can a no-fault divorce be contested?

No, a no-fault divorce cannot be contested, except in a rare situation where it is questionable if the English or Welsh court has the jurisdiction to deal with a divorce or if a marriage is not valid.

Do we both have to agree to a no-fault divorce?

You and your partner do not have to agree because the no-fault divorce removes the ability to contest a divorce. You can make a sole divorce application, even if your partner disagrees with it.

Can I get a no-fault divorce in England and Wales?

You can divorce in England or Wales if all of the following are true:

  • You’ve been married for over a year
  • England court has jurisdiction over your divorce
  • Your relationship has permanently broken down
  • Your marriage is legally recognised in the UK (including same-sex marriage)

What does jurisdiction mean?

Jurisdiction is a legal term for the country where court proceedings relating to your divorce will be dealt with. If the English court has jurisdiction over your divorce, you can divorce under the law of England and Wales.

How do I know if the English court has jurisdiction over my divorce?

You can divorce in the English court if you or your spouse’s permanent home is in England or Wales. Your permanent home is where you spend most of your time. For example, if England is where you live and work and your children attend school, you can divorce in an English court.

What is a valid marriage?

To have a valid and legally recognised marriage, the couple intending to marry must be:

  • Over 16 years old. If you are under 18 years old, you will need consent from your parents.
  • Not closely related. For example, you cannot marry your brother or sister.
  • Not already married or in a civil partnership.

If any of the above criteria are not met, you cannot get married. If, for some reason, a marriage has occurred and one of the above factors applied at the time of marriage, then the marriage is considered void and not valid. This means the marriage is treated in law as never existing, and you can’t get divorced in the English courts.

If you got married abroad, your marriage or civil partnership will be recognised in the UK if both of the following apply:

  • You followed the correct process in the country where you got married
  • Your marriage would be allowed under UK law

How long will a no-fault divorce take?

Under the old divorce law, a divorce could be completed in 3 to 4 months, although the average time was 53 weeks.

A no-fault divorce takes longer. The quickest possible time is just over seven months because of the introduction of a new 20-week reflection period on top of a 6-week cooling-off period between getting approval to divorce and being able to finalise your divorce.

The latest figures for 2023 published by the Ministry of Justice show that the average time it now takes from filing the divorce petition to obtaining the final order (or decree absolute under the old law) to end the marriage is a painfully long 14 months. There is a lot you can do to almost halve that time. To find out how to get the fastest divorce possible, read our guide here.

Can I choose between a fault-based or no-fault-based divorce?

No, you can no longer blame your spouse for your marriage’s breakdown. The no-fault divorce law introduced this change to reduce conflict between separating couples. Now, the only way to divorce in England and Wales is to use the no-fault system.

For a complete overview of the no-fault divorce process, including timelines, you can read our guide here.

How much does a no-fault divorce cost?

The divorce law was changed to reduce the conflict and the cost that divorce causes. Under the old law, you had to blame or prove you had been separated for a period of time. Your spouse could deny adultery took place as an example, and then you would be required to prove that the adultery took place, which is a hard thing to do when you consider that the legal definition of adultery is voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse.

Similarly, they could deny that you had been separated or refuse to agree to a divorce after two years of separation, forcing you to wait for five years.

All of this created a lot of conflict and high costs of having to hire opposing solicitors to fight it out, who charged you for every email, phone call and letter.

Under no-fault divorce law, you don’t have to accuse your spouse of anything. All you need to do is make a statement that your marriage has broken down and that the issues behind this cannot be resolved. Your spouse cannot deny or defend against this.

For this reason, the majority of people do not need a traditional solicitor to divorce them. You can divorce yourself through the government website, or if you don’t want the hassle of divorcing yourself and having to deal with your spouse through the process, you can use the services of an online divorce provider who will manage your divorce for you for a couple of hundred pounds so you can get back on with your life.

Should I do my divorce myself or use an online divorce service?

Divorce is not like renewing your MOT on your car. It’s a multi-stage process that takes place over a minimum of seven months. It requires you to provide initial information to the court and then respond to various court requests to move your divorce through the process. If you don’t complete a step, your divorce won’t go through to the next stage and won’t finalise.

If you have the time, good attention to detail, and are on the lookout for court emails to fulfil their requests, then a DIY divorce through the government website is the cheapest way to go. All your divorce will cost you is your time and the mandatory £593 court fee.

The main reason the average divorce takes 14 months when it can be done in seven to eight months is the delay in responding to court instructions caused by misunderstandings, concerns about getting it wrong, or just finding the right time to do it.

If you don’t want to have to mess around with court forms, dealing with your ex or spending time working on your divorce (and let’s face it, who does?), and you don’t mind paying a small fee for someone to take care of everything for you, then an online divorce provider would be a good choice.

At Easy Online Divorce, we will manage your divorce for you from start to finish, getting it through in the fastest possible time for £249 + the £593 mandatory court fee.

If you did decide to use a traditional high-street solicitor, you would be looking at an average of £900 + the £593 court fee.

For more information on the different divorce options and their costs, read our guide – The different ways to divorce and how much they cost.

Side note: Divorce and settling finances are two separate things. While it is possible to divorce yourself, if you want a legally bound financial agreement, known as a consent order, you need to use a solicitor (traditional or online) to prepare this for you. For more information, read our guide – What is a financial order? Everything you need to know to protect your future.

In Summary

I hope you have found this no-fault divorce FAQ helpful and that you are now much clearer about how the no-fault divorce works. As you can see, the new process removes your spouse’s ability to stop or delay the divorce, which reduces conflict and stress.

Except in the rare case of jurisdiction issues, the need and expense for a traditional solicitor is unnecessary for most people, leaving you with a decision to either manage your divorce yourself or use the services of an online divorce provider.

If you have any questions about no-fault divorce (or divorce in general), you can email us, call 0204 530 8101, or book a free consultation with one of our friendly experts, who will be happy to help.

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