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No-Fault Divorce: An end to the blame game

Divorcing couples will no longer have to blame one another for the breakdown of their marriage. Family Paralegal Lauren Taylor examines the concept.

The long-awaited ‘No-Fault Divorce Bill’ is now set to become reality in Autumn 2021. This will come as a frustrating blow to couples that hoped they would avoid being obliged to use the current system by the end of this year. Resolution, a community of family legal professionals, has campaigned for this dramatic transformation within family law for over 30 years and there has been much debate about the potential changes in recent years. However, in June 2020, ‘The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill’ finally made its way to the House of Commons. In such uncertain times, with ever-changing priorities in planned legislation, it is difficult to know when the bill will reach its next parliamentary stage in House of Lords and finally, to achieve Royal Assent.

The changes are welcomed by most legal professionals and, more importantly, the general public. Divorcing in today’s system requires a reason to be given, under the cover of five separate options -  those being adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years separation (with both party’s consent) or five years separation (where the other party is not required to consent). The new law will abolish this requirement, and couples will simply be able to divorce without citing their reasons as to how they came to that decision. It is hoped that with couples being able to jointly petition for divorce without listing their reasons for the split (which is the only option if couples do not wish to wait two years before starting proceedings), the parties may be able to remain on the best possible terms with each other whilst going through such a difficult time. This is especially important when children may be involved. It is widely accepted in the legal community that listing reasons within a petition can cause unnecessary acrimony amongst the couple, and one party will feel they are being regarded as blameworthy in the eyes of the court. The ‘reason section’ of a divorce paper is also very rarely referred to again within the divorce process unless the behaviour is so extreme that it cannot be ignored. So why has it taken this long to bring about change in this area of law that sadly affects almost half of married couples in the UK?

There are some who have, and continue to oppose such a change within the UK as they fear that by making the divorce process that much easier, it will lead to a higher level of divorce rates. Fiona Bruce, MP for Congleton, has openly disagreed with the Bill by stating, ‘Making divorce easier and quicker will inevitably change the nature of the commitment that is made when marrying, because those doing so will recognise that it is something that can be exited easily and quickly, without having to prove that the relationship has broken down[1]. In such modern times, this opinion seems somewhat outdated given divorce is far less taboo than it was 50 years ago, and there is no viable evidence to show that the bill will result in marriage being seen as a less credible institution. However, there is a real risk that an easier and speedier divorce process could encourage individuals to avoid taking legal advice, which may ultimately leave one or both parties financially vulnerable later down the line, especially when it comes to pensions, within the terms of settlement.

Despite the slight pushback in timescales, the Bill has been enthusiastically received and no doubt will become law as soon as time allows. The Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP has stated, ‘These new laws will stop separating couples having to make needless allegations against one another, and instead help them focus on resolving their issues amicably.[2] Legal professionals will continue to advise clients on their rights, assist in the determination of the split of assets, and sometimes will be involved in the trickier issues surrounding the agreements to be set for time spent with children after the marriage is annulled. In essence, the ‘reasons’ section within the current divorce process covers very little time in terms of the provision of solicitor’s advice, and by removing this small piece of the puzzle it should save both time and costs involved in unnecessary drafting and consideration of amendments from the other side, and at the same time remove a level of unnecessary hostility.


[1] https://www.fionabruce.org.uk/news/fionas-speaks-debate-divcorce-bill

[2] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/blame-game-to-end-as-divorce-bill-receives-royal-assent

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