No-fault divorce one year on: Rita’s TV interview
One year on from the introduction of no-fault divorce, LGFL Director Rita Gupta was interviewed by James Dickman of London Live TV to discuss its impact.
Here’s the transcript of the interview.
One of the things that many people are citing are that the divorce rates have gone up considerably. I think that they're the highest over 10 years, but as I said last year to you, we all predicted that there would be a short term rise in the divorce rate, just because there were so many people waiting for this change of law.
Some people wanted to have this kind and more amicable breakup. They didn't want to cite blame. So there was always going to be that increase. Actually, for the first quarter after the new law came into effect, there was a 22% rise (in divorce applications). That's the “10 year high” statistic that people are quoting.
But it did calm down later in the year, and if you're looking from September to December (2022), it was just a 5% rise. So we have seen those increases, but I think it's very too early to say that they are going to be reflective of divorce rates in the future.
We need to see what happens with the law when it beds in. But you know, it's not actually just the no-fault divorce that has changed things. There've been other things going on. I think all family lawyers would say in the aftermath of the pandemic, there's been a huge increase in family law cases that they are dealing with.
Many of those people (divorcing) might have taken action in 2022 rather than 2021, so that would've distorted the figures. I also had clients who wanted to issue proceedings before no fault divorce because they wanted to attribute blame. They felt they needed to tell their story. And then of course recently we've had the cost-of-living crisis.
If you look at one of the top reasons for family breakdowns and divorces, it is money / finances. Even if we take away that cost-of-living crisis, you have the spender and the saver. You can have someone who's really frugal. You can have someone who's very risk averse compared to somebody who doesn't mind taking on debt. That causes a pressure in marriages.
Do you think there's been an incredible rise in divorces since the law was passed - do you think that's a good thing? Because it's obviously been made easier for people to now get divorced. Do you think it's clearly an example of being a way that people can then sort of liberate themselves from a toxic relationships or relationships they're no longer happy with?
And is it an example of that, rather than being (as) a lot of people would criticise,(seeing) the amount of divorces going up and saying, it shouldn't be that easy for an institution of marriage to be so easily thrown aside. But do you think this has then been proven to be a good thing?
Well, bringing back to the stats, I think it's too early to tell, and I think it's how you interpret the statistics. As I say, there was a short-term rise. We all knew that was going to happen.
The divorce administrative process is easier. Actually getting divorced is not easier. The more complicated areas are dealing with your children and dealing with your finances. And they haven't been made easier. So from that perspective, I don't think that it is easier for people to separate (and) disentangle their lives, their finances, break down their family unit in any way.
Certainly that wasn't the reasoning behind the no fault divorce. I do think that for people who are in toxic marriages or coercively controlling relationships to have that ability to leave without entering into what has happened in the marriage and also the other party potentially defending proceedings, which could have happened under the old law just to keep that person connected to them. That is a positive thing.
But, you know, divorce is more than just the law. It's more than just that administrative process. It's about human emotions and it's about the stories of the two individuals behind all of this process. I don't think that's got easier and I don't think anyone is advocating that people now can (just) go and get divorced. And they haven't done that.
We have had an extraordinary year, particularly with that cost-of-living crisis, the financial pressures people are under, that has had knock on effect on divorce rate.
London is the divorce capital of the world, I'm seeing. Why do you think that is? What do you think it tells us about our city and our relationships within it?
Well, if you look at some of the main reasons why people get divorced, let's talk about money. And let's bring that back to the cost of living crisis, while London would be one of those areas that, definitely has been, most hit.
You have people who are also under a lot of stress, under pressure. There's high, long working hours that would have an impact on a relationship. You look at the whole social life, there's more opportunity perhaps to explore other options in relation to, the knock-on effect on infidelity, perhaps. And also what people want in life.
So that's why London divorce rates are quite high. They're actually not the highest though. I think it's Norwich is actually the highest and some of the seaside towns. But if you're looking at London, it's Southwark then followed by Chelsea and Kensington.
If you look at the lifestyle, the high pressure, the high cost of living, they're all themes that follow through when marriages break down.
Well, we lead the way on many things in this city and it's good that divorce is also one of them.
Finally, you know, it's important people realise that they still need to think about these things. It's not as easy as just filling out a no-fault divorce claim. They need to think about their finances, their relationship. They still need to take legal advice before doing this.
What's interesting me is. Has your workload gone up? Or, has it gone up but it's much easier? Are you doing a lot less because everything's now easier for you now?
Not at all. I think if you are observing family lawyers since the pandemic, their caseloads would've massively increased. The divorce process itself, (that is), the online administrative process of the divorce application is easier. I have noted more people doing that part themselves. But what they do is then come to us to talk about the complex, probably more important areas for them, which are their children.
And they should always be the priority and the finances and those, like you said, you must take legal advice. It does concern me that people could perhaps be persuaded, coerced into accepting a financial settlement that wouldn't be in their best interest.
People must take advice. You need to know how big the matrimonial pot is. You need to understand what there is. In any marriage, there's usually the financially savvy partner and then the partner who's perhaps just left it to the other person. And that could be the man or the woman.
But you know, particularly if you've heard about pensions, often wives can be easily persuaded, to swap the house for the pension, that's a lot more complicated. That's just one example of where you do need to take legal advice before you make what are lifelong decision.