Tatsat Chronicle Magazine

Explained: ‘No-Fault Divorce’ Law of England

The divorce law means that one spouse no longer needs to prove the other guilty of adultery, "unreasonable behaviour" or desertion
April 7, 2022

From Wednesday, unhappy spouses in England and Wales can end their marriages without blaming each other, avoiding faked evidence or waiting for years, in the biggest reform of divorce law for half a century.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act (2020), which came into effect on April 6, does away with any “blame game” and instead helps separating spouses to focus on “key practical decisions involving children or their finances”, according to a statement by the UK government.

The new law will permit couples to get divorced in a substantially shorter amount of time by stating that their marriage broke down “irretrievably”.

The change brings England and Wales into line with Scotland, which has its own legal system, and with other countries like the United States, Australia and Germany.

While experts expect a rush of divorces by couples who were waiting for the legal reform, they predict it could also ironically increase rates of marriage, by promising an easier way out if the relationship sours.

The case of Tini Owens spurred a campaign for the change after she lost a Supreme Court fight in 2018, having failed to persuade the judges that her 40-year-long marriage should end. Her husband had contested her claims of unreasonable behaviour, and the judges ruled that being trapped in an unhappy marriage was not in itself grounds for divorce. “No-one should have to remain in a loveless marriage or endure a long, drawn-out and expensive court battle to end it,” she said.

Having said that, the reform does not herald US-style “quickie divorces.” There is a minimum wait of 20 weeks between a spouse first initiating proceedings and then applying for a legal order. They must then wait another six weeks before the divorce can be granted.

However, it does overhaul the current system existing for decades, under which some spouses would turn to private detectives to find evidence of fault, or would agree just to fabricate the evidence.