The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill (often referred to as the ‘no-fault’ divorce bill) recently passed its third reading in the House of Commons. It will shortly return to the House of Lords where it will receive Royal Assent, however, it is unlikely to become law until Autumn 2021.
No-fault divorce represents the biggest shake up of the divorce laws for over 50 years. At present, one party (‘the Petitioner’) must initiate proceedings by filing a petition accusing the other party (‘the Respondent’) of adultery or unreasonable behaviour.
The current system is fault-based and requires evidence of the Respondent’s ‘guilt.’ The alternatives are for the Petitioner to live apart from the Respondent for 2 years. Even then, the Petitioner requires the Respondent’s consent to divorce or else they face a 5 year wait.
Rarely, a Petitioner will start divorce proceedings based on desertion. Petitions based on desertion require both evidence of the Respondent’s intention to desert and them having lived apart for a period of at least 2 years.
The new law means that, instead of having to attribute blame for the marital breakdown, a couple can mutually cite ‘irretrievable breakdown’ as the sole ground for them wanting to obtain a divorce.
This can be done in a joint statement or by an individual. Either the Petitioner or the Respondent can provide a statement saying the marriage has broken down without having to provide evidence about bad behaviour. By doing so, the new law effectively removes the ‘blame game’ that plagues the old system.
Although many campaigners and family lawyers welcome the proposed change, some people are concerned that the new law makes divorce too easy and provides little incentive for couples to work at resolving differences in their marriage.