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What does the 'no fault' divorce law mean for you?

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It’s the biggest shake-up in the UK’s divorce laws for almost fifty years. It’s intended to make divorces smoother and less acrimonious. How will it work? Let’s find out.

With everything else going on in politics at the moment, you’d be forgiven for missing it, but big changes are coming to Family Law. In April 2019, the UK Government announced far-reaching plans to reform the country’s divorce laws. If you’re considering divorce, these changes, once approved by Parliament and signed into law, will have a significant effect on your process. In this article, we’re going to look at the changes, why they’re happening and most importantly, what they mean for you.

Changes to the divorce process

Currently, if a couple wants to end their marriage without going through a separation period of at least two years, the law demands one party to place ‘blame’ on the other. The other party then needs to accept this blame and consent to divorce. If the other party does not accept blame, the separation period extends to at least five years.

When the new changes become law:

  • Spouses will not need to separate for two years before they can legally divorce.

  • One party will not have to show evidence of the other party’s unreasonable behaviour, such as adultery or desertion.

  • Parties in a marriage will not be able to contest a divorce.

A divorce carried out in this way is known as a ‘no-fault divorce’, as no blame is apportioned on either party. 

Why these changes are happening

The existing laws were thought to make the divorce process longer, more stressful and more hostile that it needed to be.  

In many instances, marriages end because both parties simply are not happy. There doesn’t have to be adultery or unreasonable behaviour. When this happens, both parties just want to end their marriage, agree on the finances and get on with their lives. If they cannot do this until they have been separated for two years, they are in limbo. This separation period can lead to unnecessary bitterness between the spouses. 

The requirement for one party to apportion blame on the other and have it accepted causes problems too. What if the other party doesn’t want to accept it? This is what happened in 2017 with Tini and Hugh Owens. Because Mr Owens would not accept the blame his wife was citing, their divorce could not go through. This case ended up at the UK Supreme Court, who sympathised, but could not alter the existing laws. The Owens’ saga became the catalyst for these law changes.

There are other reasons why the Government is implementing these changes:

  • The divorce laws have not been altered for almost 50 years and could be considered outdated.

  • A YouGov poll in July 2018 found 69% of UK citizens support the introduction of ‘no-fault divorce’.

  • To bring the UK’s divorce laws in line with other progressive countries across the world.

What does it mean for you?

If you’re considering divorce, these changes to the law should make the process quicker, smoother and less stressful. It should be much easier to achieve a divorce settlement where you both remain amicable. You do not have to place any blame on your spouse, nor have blame placed on you.

 It means you can be honest. Currently, in around a third of divorces, parties will lie or exaggerate to prove unreasonable behaviour and try and speed up the process. The new laws will remove the need to do this.

 It should be quicker to come to an agreement on your finances. If your settlement needs to be decided by a court, which can only happen once the divorce is underway, you will no longer have to wait until your separation period is over before you can apply for a decision.

 Finally, if you have children, these changes should ease some of the pain for them. Being caught in the middle of a family conflict is stressful. Seeing one of their parents ‘blamed’ for the break-up of their marriage is hurtful. Removing this requirement and speeding up the process should help keep things amicable and should make co-parenting easier to arrange.

A clean break

It’s hoped that the law changes will complete the parliamentary process quickly once MPs return after the summer recess in September. Once signed into law, divorce, while not something that should not be taken lightly, will become less bitter. We welcome anything that improves the chances of resolution and amicable co-parenting for children.

If you’re thinking of divorce, even after these changes pass into law, you still need an experienced family lawyer on your side. At Couchman Hanson, our solicitors genuinely care about getting the best deal for you. We’re highly professional, with ‘city’ level talent and experience, but also friendly, welcoming and light-hearted. Everything we do fits our values of integrity, honesty and authenticity.

If you would like to find out more, call our Family Law Solicitor, Nikki Lynch on 01428 722189 for a free 30 minute consultation.

Daniel Couchman