No-fault divorce: is it worth the wait?

woman waiting for divorce bill

No-fault divorce is getting closer, as the long-awaited Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill 2019-20 is finally progressing through parliament. The bill may not be a top priority for government at present, but with the divorce rate predicted to rise as already fragile marriages are likely to feel the strain of lockdown, it may soon become one.


One single ground for divorce

At present, there are only five grounds for divorce, three of which require the allocation of blame to one party.

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • Living apart for more than two years and with both agreeing to the divorce
  • Living apart for at least five years, even if your spouse does not agree

Irretrievable breakdown = no fault

The new Bill replaces all the existing five seasons with a simple statement that “The marriage has broken down irretrievably.”

As Justice Secretary & Lord Chancellor Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP said:

“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.”


Is it worth waiting for no-fault divorce?

In a word, no. We really don’t know what’s going to happen to bills in parliament at present, and progress will inevitably be delayed by the need to work on more pressing legislation. There is even the chance that the Bill may not even be passed at all.

What’s more, there is every reason to get divorce proceedings started now, because of a sting in the tail in the new Bill….


No quickie divorce on the table

For those expecting this Bill to include the option for a ‘quickie’ divorce, it doesn’t. In fact, quite the opposite, as the Bill would lengthen the divorce timescale rather than shorten it.

Currently, 40% of divorcing couples are granted a degree nisi within 12 weeks. However, under the new Bill, you must wait for a minimum period of 20 weeks from the initial petition before a judge can grant your degree nisi. That’s a much longer wait than at present, and could really slow down your divorce even if it’s really straightforward.

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New words, old meanings

As divorce lawyers, we’re constantly seeing legal terminology changing with new legislation. It’s designed to help make the divorce process more understandable, but sometimes we do wonder if it’s worth it! The revisions in this Bill include:

  • “decree nisi” becomes a “conditional divorce order”.
  • “judicial separation” becomes “a judicial separation order”
  • “divorce” become “a divorce order”


No more Tini Owens scenarios

Tini Owens wanted to divorce her husband of 40 years. He refused, even though they had lived apart since she had moved out. She appealed to the High Court in 2018, which rejected her appeal on the grounds that her husband’s behaviour had not been unreasonable. This forced her to wait the full five years until she could finally divorce her husband without his consent in 2020.

She wasn’t alone; other spouses had refused to divorce even after five years of separation on the grounds that they would suffer grave hardship. The Bill removes the ability for one spouse to contest the divorce in court. So, no more waiting game.


Where is the Bill now?

The bill has currently just had a first reading in the House of Commons, having been debated and amended by the House of Lords. There’s no date set yet for a second reading, but it is making progress with just four stages to go. You can follow the Bill’s progress at the Parliament site.


Expert divorce advice from LGFL

As experienced divorce lawyers, we have long argued that a no-fault divorce process would be fairer and more suitable to today’s society. In particular we would support any changes that reduce the emotion distress of divorce on both parents and children, and retains more amicable relations between divorcing parents.

What’s more, as Resolution family lawyers, we will not write inflammatory petitions unnecessarily as we follow their code of practice. You will always get to approve all petitions, written with the benefit of our professional advice and decades of experience.

If you’re uncertain what approach is best for you and your family, call us to book a consultation to discuss your particular circumstances.