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A Comprehensive Guide to No Fault Divorce

The highly anticipated and eagerly awaited no-fault divorce law changes come into effect from 6th April 2022. Whilst deemed the ‘new’ law, this in reality is putting in place the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act of 2020.

What is a no-fault divorce?

New laws provide for a Family Court to grant a divorce upon receiving a petition by either party of the marriage without the applicant having to provide evidence that the other party’s behaviour has resulted in the marriage breaking down, thereby removing the blame (or fault).

Does the UK have no-fault divorce?

The UK will have no-fault divorce for the first time from 6 April 2022. Up until that date, the petitioner is required to rely on one of the five facts for divorce under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 – the most available of which are fault-based.

How much does a no-fault divorce cost?

There is a court fee payable when the application is made of £593**. If you are the applicant and instruct solicitors to assist you with the divorce process, then costs can range from £500-£600 plus VAT.

The respondent’s costs will be minimal depending on whether they wish to instruct a divorce solicitor or act as a litigant in person.

These costs cover the divorce only. Additional costs will be incurred if solicitors are instructed to assist with the resolution of matrimonial finances.

Despite the intention of the law to encourage more amicable divorces, it will still be possible for the applicant to seek payment of some or all of their divorce costs from the respondent. However, if the parties are making a joint application, this is unlikely to be applicable and the parties may have to agree in advance the proportions in which they will pay the costs. In a sole application, where, for example, tensions are high and communication between the parties is poor, others feel that the court should have the power to order (in appropriate cases) for the divorce costs to be shared. This is particularly important as the procedure seemingly will remain that one party (the applicant) completes much of the work and pays the Court fee, whereas the respondent has very little to do. Especially as the costs can be hugely significant for some people.

** correct at the time of writing.

Fault vs no-fault divorce

Regarding a fault-based divorce, the petitioner or their solicitor would draft a petition based on one of the five reasons for divorce. This petition would then be sent to the respondent for their consideration. Only one party can file the divorce petition and additional costs are incurred if the divorce petition is defended.

However, with a no-fault divorce, both parties can file a petition jointly solely based on no-fault, so the blame is taken away. Therefore, the divorce petition cannot be contested, thereby hopefully removing some of the acrimony.

The changes are summarised in the following table:

CurrentNew Comment
Terminology:
Decree Nisi
Decree Absolute
Petitioner
Conditional Order
Final order
Applicant
This is intended to make divorce law easier to understand for those without lawyers.
Cite one of 5 facts (behaviour, adultery, separation for 2 or 5 years or desertion)Statement of irretrievable breakdown provided by applicant.This is to remove the ‘fault based’ and other arbitrary grounds – reminding us all that the reason that divorce is allowed is to allow couples whose marriage has broken down to legally bring this to an end.
Court had discretion as to whether the fact was made out and had a ‘duty to enquire’ into the factual circumstances.Court has to make divorce order – statement is conclusive evidence of irretrievable breakdown.This reflects changed social attitudes towards divorce. In practice, it is very rare under the current law for the Court to make enquiries into the circumstances – this only tends to happen in defended cases.
Ability for one party to defend the divorce.Removed entirely.
But can still dispute on the basis of the validity of the marriage or jurisdiction (for example if the parties live abroad).
This will prevent cases where one party seeks to delay or object to the fact put forward. This was rare, and only tended to happen in behaviour petitions where one party objected to the ‘unreasonable behaviour’ that the other alleged they exhibited, such as in the infamous Owens v Owens case which was one factor that prompted these reforms.
One person applies only.Joint applications possible.This is intended to increase co-operation. It will be possible for sole applications to be converted to joint applications, and vice versa, up until a specific stage of the process.
Decree Nisi (the first divorce order) can be applied for as soon as the other party completes their acknowledgement of service or the petitioner files a certificate of service.The applicant cannot ordinarily ‘confirm’ (apply for the first divorce order) until 20 weeks after the start of the proceedings.This is intended to provide a ‘cooling off period’ and prevent spur of the moment divorces, easily obtained via completing online forms. In practice, for many people, it may be an inconvenience – for example where they have agreed the financial arrangements, as this cannot be made into a binding Court Order until the first divorce order has been granted.

Much of the process remains as at present, including the use of the Court’s online portal for the majority of cases, which is generally well received, the application fee of £593 and many other procedural aspects.

How to get a no-fault divorce

The option to petition on a no-fault divorce will take effect on 6 April 2022. The parties can simply submit a divorce petition online and pay the Court fee.

Here at Hawkins Family Law, our no fault divorce lawyers are happy to assist with this process. However, if you would like to keep costs down, you can file the divorce petition yourself online using the following website:

https://www.gov.uk/divorce

Many people prefer to have a divorce lawyer assist them with the process, as this takes this weight off their shoulders and help them to understand each stage.

Grounds for no-fault divorce

Couples will be able to get divorced simply based on the fact the marriage has irretrievably broken down. They will not need to prove anything to the Court.

When will no-fault divorce become law?

The Act for “no fault” divorce was passed in June 2020 and is due to become law on 6 April 2022.

Am I eligible for a no-fault divorce?

You are eligible to apply for a no-fault based divorce on 6 April 2022, if you meet the following:

  • you have been married for over a year
  • your relationship has permanently broken down
  • your marriage is legally recognised in the UK (including same-sex marriage)
  • the UK is your permanent home, or the permanent home of your husband or wife

Hawkins Family Law are family law specialists, meaning we have years of experience with cases regarding divorce and associated family law matters. If you are looking for reliable and accredited legal advice regarding your divorce or getting a divorce, speak to one of our team today.

Having graduated in July 2017 with a first class honours degree in law from the University of Bedfordshire, Holly has since been exploring her interest in Family Law. She is currently undertaking her postgraduate LPC and masters course to qualify as a family solicitor. Holly joined Hawkins Family Law in August 2017. She has previously volunteered with public legal advice services and currently is enjoying a new challenge having recently begun a paralegal role at Hawkins Family Law.

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