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No fault divorce sees surge in applications

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Posted by Vikki Martin on 28th April 2022

Family

When the clock finally chimed for no-fault divorce, courts saw a surge in applications from couples looking to avoid the blame game, but challenges still lie ahead for couples ending their marriage.

HM Courts & Tribunals Service has revealed that some 3,000 applications were made in the week that the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 came into force, compared with a weekly average of 2,000 over the previous year.

The new Act came into force on 6 April 2022 and the long-awaited change allows married couples to issue divorce proceedings without assigning blame. Only a statement of irretrievable breakdown is needed, and it also makes it possible to file for divorce jointly, so couples can reflect a mutual agreement to part. Previously, the only alternative to blaming one partner of adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour was to go through a period of separation of at least two years. 

The aim is to make divorce less confrontational across the board, but will support victims of domestic abuse in particular, as the application for divorce cannot be contested and they will be able to avoid making allegations requiring investigation or supporting evidence. These are changes long demanded by victim support groups and the Act represents a major step forward for those looking to leave abusive marriages.

However, some aspects of the new rules are causing concern. While the Act requires that a minimum of 26 weeks elapse between the start of the divorce proceedings and the final divorce order being made, professionals have highlighted that the new process could result in the other party finding out about the divorce proceedings with little notice.

That’s because the 26-week period of notification of proceedings runs from the date the petition is filed with the court, not from the date that proceedings are served on the respondent. And while the new rules nominally provide for service on the respondent within 28 days, in practice the applicant may not follow the provision and the court cannot reset the timetable if service is delayed. 

The applicant can apply for the conditional order at any time from 20 weeks after the filing of the papers at court, provided the respondent has been served at some stage, and then six weeks later the application can be made for the final decree. 

Whilst the divorce process may have been simplified in theory, it remains important that separating couples seek advice not only in relation to the divorce process but more importantly in relation to resolving issues relating to the division of their assets and arrangements for children. The introduction of the no-fault divorce process does not affect the fact that parties still need to ensure that they understand their rights and responsibilities arising from a divorce and specifically that a divorce itself does not include provision for financial settlement which should be resolved alongside the divorce process.

At Wolferstans, we have an experienced family team who can advise and assist you in achieving a fair financial settlement for you and your family. Contact us today to book an appointment by calling 01752 292201.

Web site content note: This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.