Major change to divorce law in England and Wales

8th April 2022

This week saw the introduction of “no fault” divorce in England and Wales, allowing married couples or civil partners to divorce without making allegations of blame. This is a positive step forward for couples wishing to go their separate ways without having a specific reason. Previously divorce was only granted if couples met one of the following criteria: adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, two years separation with both parties consenting, or five years separation. If none of the criteria were applicable, as was increasingly the case, couples would find themselves in a situation where one of them would have to make allegations of unreasonable behaviour against the other.

Allegations of unreasonable behaviour can cause unnecessary hurt and animosity at a time when, very often, emotions are already heightened, so this change is a huge step forward, particularly for couples who want a “good divorce”, whether they have children and will need to continue to co-parent or not. For some individuals however, this may feel a little unfair. Under the old system if one party was ‘at fault’ then often the partner petitioning for divorce would find comfort in being able to lay blame and have their feelings validated by the Courts.

Amongst the changes introduced this week perhaps the most radical is the removal of the ability to challenge the divorce, therefore reducing the opportunity for a victim of domestic abuse to continue to be controlled by their abuser. We hope that this change will give confidence to many individuals trapped in abusive marriages where the abusive or controlling partner could have defended the divorce, essentially saying they wanted to remain married, as a way to exert control over the partner.

Moving forward, in most cases to get divorced the only proof that the Court will need is a statement that the marriage is over. There will then be a 20-week period between starting proceedings and applying for a conditional order (Decree Nisi), and a further six-week period before the divorce is finalised (Decree Absolute). Arrangements for children and finances etc will continue to be agreed either through mediation or a Judge.

Petrova Caldecourt, Partner and Head of Family at Lightfoots LLP says “Sadly, the reality is a client can feel uncomfortable at being seen to accuse the other person of being the cause of the breakdown of the relationship leading to uncomfortable conversations and increasing hostility. This change will facilitate couples who want a divorce to achieve their intention more cordially”.

To learn more about the divorce process and Family Law services offered at Lightfoots Solicitors please visit: