New divorce laws coming into effect on 6 April will see one spouse able to apply for a divorce under the justifiable grounds that their marriage has irretrievably broken down.
Warring couples will be watching with interest this significant change from the current law in England and Wales. Currently, a marriage can only be dissolved if it has irretrievably broken down and one of the following five scenarios is cited in the divorce petition:
Your spouse has committed adultery
Your spouse has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with them
Your spouse has deserted you for at least two years
Two years separation WITH consent
You and your spouse have been separated for a continuous period of two years and you both agree to the divorce
Five years separation
You and your spouse have been separated for a continuous period of five years.
However, in the biggest change in divorce laws in over half a century, one individual will now be permitted to apply for a divorce under the grounds that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, without having to live apart from their partner for five years or by citing adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion as part of their petition.
With these new changes, it would appear that the law is finally catching up to the realities of modern-day relationships. Being tied to a spouse for a further five years after the end of a relationship clearly serves no one.
Robert Buckland, who was justice secretary when the Bill passed in 2020, highlights one of the impractical outcomes of the current law was spouses being forced to cite inflammatory allegations to hasten the divorce process. He said, a positive outcome of the reform would “stop divorcing couples having to make unnecessary allegations against one another and instead help them focus on separating amicably.
“By sparing individuals the need to play the blame game, we are stripping out the needless antagonism this creates so families can better move on with their lives.”
The new divorce laws, which come into effect on 6 April, could therefore herald a significant reduction in conflict in divorces, ensuring marriages may be dissolved without unnecessary blame and accusations levelled at either party.
Forty-two-year-old Adenike Johnson* is relieved to hear about the incoming new law as she says it will help her bring to a close her marriage, quicker and with less acrimony. She said: “After 16 years of marriage, I simply have nothing left in common with my husband. We have grown apart and as far as I know, there hasn’t been any adultery, so being forced to cite that as a reason for wanting a divorce wouldn’t have sat well with me.
“We both got married at a young age and have gradually grown apart and become different people. We simply want to move on with the rest of our lives.”
While the end of a relationship is no cause for celebration, ensuring a smooth divorce process for the couple can only be a positive outcome. However, Vanessa Gillbanks, Divorce and Family Law Specialist at Richard Nelson LLP cautions that there is likely to be an upsurge in marriage dissolution applications following the introduction of the ‘no-fault divorce law’.
Commenting on this outcome, Vanessa said: “We are expecting to see an uptick in divorce rates as the ‘no-fault divorce’ comes into play in April 2022. Currently, couples have to satisfy one of the five grounds for divorce (adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, separation for two years, or separation for five years) in order to apply for their separation; this new option will allow couples to part ways with mutual consent.”
But there is a silver lining. As Vanessa says: “Under this new legislation, couples can focus on divorcing without the additional stress and cost which the previous divorce application has sometimes caused.”
Please note: Couples must apply for divorce under the current law by 31 March 2022 or wait for the changes to come into force, from 6 April.