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Updates to UK Divorce Law: No Fault Divorce


The new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act (“DDSA”) 2020 is due to take effect on 6th April this year. The objective of this reform is to simplify the divorce process and minimise conflict between couples wishing to divorce.

At present, divorce law requires the assignment of blame by one party onto the other by reference to behavioural or factual grounds. Consequently, the current process can exacerbate tension between married couples in circumstances where there may already be significant degrees of emotional and tense feelings, such is the sensitive and very personal nature of separation and divorce.

For further information on what the new divorce process is, and why it is needed, refer to our article written by Daniel Sanders, Partner and Family Law Solicitor at Steele Raymond, ‘No Fault Divorce: A definitive guide to the new UK divorce law’.

How has the divorce application process changed?

Joint and sole divorce applications

One of the key procedural changes is the introduction of joint divorce applications. This will enable both parties to take equal ownership of the application to bring about an end to the marriage, should they wish to. Alternatively, one party can apply by way of a sole application, which the other party can only dispute in very limited circumstances, unlike under current divorce law where the procedure allows a divorce to be defended.

Can one party dispute the divorce?

The reformed process removes the need to establish ‘grounds’ for the divorce. Consequently, the Respondent, in a sole application for divorce, will not be able to contest the application. The Respondent can dispute an application on limited technical grounds being (i) lack of jurisdiction, (ii) fraud, (iii) procedural non-compliance and/or (iv) invalidity of marriage. If a Respondent does choose to dispute an application, they must do so within 21 days of the date they receive the application from the Court.

Paper or digital divorce applications

Applicants may continue to apply for divorce digitally or by post, however, the Court will be encouraging use of the digital portal, with all applications made by a legal representative through this service. Service of the application on the Respondent will then be carried out by the Court, if within jurisdiction, however, the Applicant may choose to serve the application on the Respondent themselves.

When will the divorce application process change?

Any Applicants wishing to take advantage of the old procedure will need to file their applications by 4pm on 31st March 2022. The new online system will then open at 10am on 6th April 2022. Any urgent applications under the old system can still be filed up to 4pm on 5th April 2022, but there is no guarantee that these will be processed.

How long will a no fault divorce take?

A statutory minimum 20-week period must now pass before the application can proceed to the conditional order (currently known as “Decree Nisi”) stage. This is in addition to the existing statutory 6-week period between the conditional order and the final order (currently known as “Decree Absolute”), extending the minimum timescale to 26 weeks, therefore. The timescale is designed to enable parties to reflect upon the decision to divorce and make any necessary child and/or financial arrangements that are linked to the divorce.

Is no fault divorce a good thing for families?

Steele Raymond’s family solicitors have been advocating No Fault Divorce for some time:

As a team, we always encourage a non-confrontational approach to divorce where possible, thereby minimising conflict and often avoiding contested court proceedings as a consequence. This approach invariably facilitates a constructive and unemotive focus on achieving a conclusion to divorce in the most cost effective and efficient manner.

The update to divorce law is therefore welcomed and in line with our modern values which is reflected by the way in which separating couples will be able to facilitate non-confrontational divorce. Specifically, the introduction of joint application is a revolutionary change to divorce law, and it is hoped that this will reduce the pressure placed on one party in relying on often controversial behavioural allegations or upon asserted facts, which can commonly delay the divorce process or be ripe for contesting. Find out how our divorce lawyers can help >

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For further information and advice on divorce proceedings and family law please contact Daniel Sanders on 01202 294 566 or [email protected].


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