No-fault divorce – beware misconceptions
In April 2022 we are expecting the introduction of no-fault divorce in England and Wales. This will be the largest shake-up of divorce law since it began and will impact the entire divorce process. There are already misconceptions being circulated about the process and the cost involved. These misconceptions need to be halted quickly before the new provisions go live.
The main misconception seems to be around the speed of the process, with people believing that taking out the need for one spouse to blame the other for the divorce will somehow make the process quicker. However, a no-fault divorce is not a “quickie divorce” by any means as the divorce will still be at least a three stage process.
Under the new provisions, once a petition has been submitted and issued by the Court, people will be required to wait 20 weeks before being able to proceed with an application for a conditional order (currently known as the decree nisi). Once the conditional order has been granted, the parties will still need to wait six weeks and one day before applying for the final order (currently known as decree absolute).
Under current provisions it is estimated that a “standard” (uncontested) divorce process can take anywhere between six to eight months. Even when the new no fault provisions arrive, cases are still likely to take a similar amount of time and will not be quicker.
Another misconception is that only one party will be able to submit a petition under the new provisions. This is incorrect as it will be possible for both spouses to submit a joint petition to the Court in April 2022, provided they both agree the marriage has broken down. A joint petition will cut out the need for one party to acknowledge the petition (as is the current arrangement).
As to the costs involved, these will likely remain the same. Currently spouses have to explain to the Court the reason why their marriage has irretrievably broken down. Whilst the new provisions remove this requirement allowing spouses to simply say to the Court the marriage is broken and a divorce is required, the court fee payable to submit a divorce petition will still remain £593. The only exception will be if one of the parties qualifies for a fee exemption due to their limited income. However, if the petition is being submitted as a joint petition, both spouses will need to qualify for the fee exemption to apply.
Legal fees involved in having a solicitor deal with the divorce are unlikely to change but with the divorce process moving online, people may feel this is something they can handle on their own. However, it is likely the parties will still need solicitor advice and support in sorting out the financial settlement and any child arrangement details.
Whilst the new no-fault divorce provisions are primarily about the removal of blame, the new law will also bring some key changes to divorce terminology in England and Wales. Currently, the person making the divorce application is known as the “Petitioner”, and the other party is known as the “Respondent”. This will change when the new law is introduced, as “Petitioner” will be changed to “Applicant”. This change in terminology is designed to remove the assumption of blame simply because one party is filing the petition and the other person isn’t.
The new divorce process will still involve the two stages of decree nisi and decree absolute, but these names will also change. The decree nisi will become a ‘conditional order of divorce’, and the decree absolute will become the ‘final order of divorce’.
The new reforms will be introduced on 6 April 2022 and will apply to onward divorce petitions. Existing divorce petitions before the Court (i.e. filed before 6 April 2022) will remain live and will not need to be amended or refiled. It is also envisaged that civil partners will also be able to file dissolution proceedings online (currently these must be done on paper through regional divorce centres).
Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Ipswich.