No Fault Divorce Bill

For many years we have been hearing about the government changing divorce law from “blame game” to “no blame”. Finally the “No fault” divorce bill was approved by the House of Commons on 13 June 2019. It now seems very likely that we will have a change in law soon.

Changes coming soon

At present you have to be married at least 12 month before you can petition for a divorce and then you have to show your marriage has broken down irretrievably using one of five reasons. The five reasons Adultery, Unreasonable behaviour, two year separation with consent, Desertion or five year separation. With Adultery and Unreasonable behaviour, the Petitioner has to make allegations and cast blame on the other which is unfair as in reality both parties feel the other is to blame for the failure. Under the No fault divorce Bill the 12 month rule will remain in place but the five reasons will no longer apply. Both parties can petition for a divorce and all they have to say is the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

David Gauke, the Justice Secretary introduced the Bill saying “By removing the unnecessary mudslinging the process can needlessly rake up, we’ll make sure the law plays its part in allowing couples to move on as amicably and constructively as possible.” The Bill also takes away the right to contest an application for a divorce. This is good news certainly for those with ongoing commitments such as having children for whom they must continue to work together.

How long will it take

Under this Bill the time estimate to finalise a divorce will be slightly longer. Once an application is made, the Applicant will have to wait 20 weeks before applying for the first order called the Decree Nisi. After six weeks the parties can apply for the final order called the Decree Absolute. The whole process will take six months to completion. At present the petition is lodged at court and after 14 days from service the Petitioner can apply for the Decree Nisi. Six weeks after the conditional order, the petitioner can apply for the Decree Absolute which is usually granted within five to 10 days from receipt of the application. So under the current rules a divorce can conclude within four months.

All family lawyers should encourage a conciliatory approach but often this is impossible when emotions are charged and one party is being blamed on paper. It is hoped that this new Bill will make that approach a little bit easier. Having said that there is some concern about the parties having insufficient time to make financial arrangements before the marriage has ended. Family lawyers often advise clients to withhold the application for the Decree Absolute until after the financial issues are resolved. What is Parliament’s plan for this? We shall wait and watch this space.

This article was prepared by Manveen Padda in our London City office. If you require advice on the divorce process and are based in London please contact Manveen in London on 020 7481 6393. If you are based in the Bromley area please call 020 8464 4242, for Surrey the number is 01372 750100 and in Sevenoaks call 01732 457575.