Bringing Divorce Law into the 21st Century

The divorce process in England and Wales underwent much needed reform in 2022, when the enactment of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 (The Act) occurred. The new legislation replaced laws and processes that had not been updated for more than fifty five years and, in many people's views, were out-of-touch with modern society.

England and Wales now has a system of no fault divorce which no longer requires one party to apportion blame and the other to accept they are at fault when their relationship has broken down irretrievably (the five facts or ‘grounds’ for divorce were adultery, unreasonable behaviour, and desertion, with the only other being when the couple had lived apart for defined amounts of time)

Essentially, couples had to prove to the court that their relationship had ended for a specific reason and the court would then decide whether or not a divorce or civil partnership dissolution would be granted.

What has the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act changed?

The Act made important changes to the way divorces in England and Wales are handled. These changes include:

  • Simplification of the language used: for example, ‘divorce petition’ is now ‘divorce application’, ‘petitioner’ is now ‘applicant’, and ‘decree nisi and decree absolute’ have changed to ‘conditional order and final order’ respectively.
  • Removing blame or fault: applicants no longer have to prove one of the five facts or ‘grounds’ for divorce.
  • Allowing joint applications: both spouses/civil partners can apply for the divorce when they agree that the relationship has broken down irretrievably.
  • No more contested divorce: one party cannot stop the divorce from going ahead simply because they don’t want a divorce. The only way a divorce can be contested is if there are issues relating to validity of the marriage/civil partnership, jurisdiction, fraud, or procedural non-compliance.
  • Minimum 26 weeks procedural process time: 20 weeks must pass from the date of divorce application before the conditional order can be applied for. Once the conditional order is granted there will be an additional 6 week time span before the final order application can be made.

Removing blame and fault from the divorce process

No fault divorce means that there is no requirement for one party to blame the other for the breakdown of the relationship, and there is no requirement to live apart for a given amount of time.

Under the new law, when two people agree that their marriage or civil partnership is over, they can apply together for their divorce or dissolution as joint applicants. If just one party wishes to seek a divorce they can apply as the sole applicant (the other party will be known as the respondent) and only have to state to the court that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.)

The Act therefore allows adults (either as the sole applicant or joint applicants) to decide when they feel they can no longer stay married or civil partnered to the other person rather than the court. Importantly, it has removed the ability of the other party to contest (defend) the divorce. So, a disgruntled spouse can no longer ‘trap’ the other person in a ‘loveless marriage’ out of spite.

In effect, it is no longer up to the courts to decide whether the couple has proved the irretrievable breakdown of their relationship and, therefore, whether the marriage should be dissolved  – the court’s only job now is to make sure all legal processes are carried out correctly in order to grant the divorce/dissolution.

Will no fault divorce make it easier to get divorced?

In the run up to the law change, some commentators felt that the reforms would make it easier to get divorced and that this could undermine the significance of marriage as a lifelong commitment.

However, the new divorce law still requires a strict legal process to be followed and time has been factored into the judicial procedure to ensure that the parties have time to consider whether the dissolution of their legal relationship is the right course of action for them. In all cases, divorce will take a minimum of 26 weeks to complete and you cannot make a divorce application until you have been married for at least one year.

The major difference, as the term no fault divorce suggests, is that spouses and civil partners are able to commence the divorce process without the need for blame. This, it is hoped, will mean that divorce becomes less adversarial and both parties may be able to begin the process with a more respectful, conciliatory attitude that enables smoother negotiation of the important issues such as arrangements for children and divorce financial settlement.

How much does no fault divorce cost?

To proceed with a divorce, the court requires a fee (currently £593).

If you wish to be represented by a divorce solicitor there will be extra costs. Even if you and your spouse/civil partner are making a joint application, you will each need to instruct a solicitor who can advise you independently about your legal rights relating to other issues such as arrangements for children and the financial settlement.

Wellers Hedleys’ divorce solicitors in Surrey offer a fixed-fee package costing just £750 plus Vat (excluding court fees) which covers the fundamental aspects of divorce.

If you require further legal representation in respect of child law and the law as it relates to finances and property arrangements on divorce, then this will incur additional fees. We will always discuss these with you at the outset, so you are aware of the likely costs before proceeding.

Divorce solicitors in Surrey

With offices in Bookham and Effingham Wellers Hedley assists clients across Surrey and beyond with family law issues relating to divorce, separation and child law. We adopt a friendly, approachable style of working with clients and strive to carry out divorce work with the minimum of stress, while focusing on upholding their best interests in divorce.

Contact the team in our Butler House office, or call on 01372 750100 for a no obligation discussion, or you can email