No fault divorce - how did we get here?

Ahead of  "no fault" divorce coming into force on 6 April 2022, we will be looking at the history behind the new law, how Mills & Reeve lawyers have formed part of that history and what the new law means for separating couples.

Divorce law in England and Wales is set out in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.  As of this Wednesday (6 April 2022), the law will be fundamentally changed to introduce "no fault" divorce. At the moment, if a couple want to get divorced or dissolve their civil partnership without waiting a minimum two year separation period,  then one has to assign fault or blame on the other by either relying on:

  • adultery; or
  • unreasonable behaviour.

Historically this has increased hostility and acrimony between a couple, which has not been helpful when it comes to agreeing arrangements for any children or an overall financial settlement.

For decades, family lawyers have been calling for a change in this fault-based system. Leading the charge was Resolution, a national body of professionals involved in family law who aim to resolve family disputes in a way that reduces confrontation and conflict. The campaign came to a head with the landmark Supreme Court case of Owens v Owens in 2018, where Resolution was granted special permission to intervene in the proceedings.  Mills & Reeve acted for Resolution in that case. Find out more about the case and Mills & Reeve’s role in it here.

The Supreme Court decision in July 2018 that Mrs Owens was not entitled to a divorce despite an unhappy relationship epitomised all that is wrong with our existing divorce laws. The decision may not have been the one family lawyers were hoping for but it was a catalyst for change. Having emphasised that they could only interpret rather than change the law, the Supreme Court called on Parliament to review whether our divorce laws really were fit for purpose in the 21st century. 

And that is exactly what happened. In response to the judgment, the Ministry of Justice announced that it would look at reforms to the law and later that year launched a consultation on an entirely new divorce system.  The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill  (which set out those changes) was introduced to Parliament in 2019. It ultimately received Royal Assent and became law in June 2020.  Fast forward to today and the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 will take effect in less than 48 hours! 

We will be diving into what the new law actually means for separating couples in our upcoming blogs. If you are thinking about getting a divorce or a civil partnership dissolution and want to speak to a lawyer, please contact our team who would be happy to help you .

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