What is No-Fault Divorce? UK No-fault Divorce Bill Explained
  • 6th Jun 2019

What is No-fault Divorce?

Following consultation, the Government have now announced proposals to reform divorce law and to introduce no-fault divorce.

Under present law, divorcing couples need to establish the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This is done by proving one of five “facts”:

a) One spouse has committed adultery, and the other spouse finds it intolerable to live with that spouse;

b) One spouse has behaved in a way that the other spouse cannot reasonably be expected to live with them;

c) One spouse deserted the other for a continuous period of at least two years;

d) The spouses have lived apart for a continuous period of at least two years, and the other spouse agrees to the divorce; or

e) The spouses have lived apart for a continuous period of at least five years, whether or not the other spouse agrees to the divorce.

Unless the parties have been separated for at least two years, if neither party is in a new relationship, the marriage can only be ended by one party setting out specific allegations of the other’s behaviour. The law does not (generally speaking) allow for a mutually agreed divorce.

This can be the cause of much distress between the parties, both by the petitioner (who starts the divorce, as they must come up with the allegations) and the respondent (who may be unhappy with what is said about their conduct). Some Respondents can be so unhappy about this, the divorce becomes formally defended. This is rare, but costly when it does occur.

No-fault Divorce Bill Proposals

Government proposals aim to end much of the distress and conflict around divorce. Key characteristics of the new proposals are:

  • Retaining the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage as the only ground for divorce;
  • Removing the requirement to evidence the “facts” and replacing this with a statement of irretrievable breakdown;
  • A new option for a mutually agreed divorce;
  • Removing the ability to oppose a divorce; and
  • A minimum timeframe of 6 months from the start of the divorce to conclusion.

New legislation is expected when Parliamentary time allows.

While full details are awaited, the proposed commitment to reform is to be welcomed and should take a great deal of unnecessary acrimony out of the divorce process. This should enable couples to dispense with the shell of a marriage with more dignity than current law allows, without a lengthy wait.

With Brexit taking up a significant amount of Parliamentary time at the moment, hopefully the necessary time for the reforms to be enacted can be found sooner rather than later.