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What is no fault divorce and what does it mean for separating couples?

What is no fault divorce and what does it mean for separating couples?

When will no-fault divorce be introduced in the UK?

‘The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill was included in the government’s agenda set out in the Queen’s speech in December 2019. There has been delay in progress as a result of COVID-19 yet the bill passed it’s first hurdle in the House of Commons in early June. We will update as the bill progresses and a timetable is announced’

UPDATE: No-fault divorce became law on April 6th 2022. Read 'everything you need to know about no-fault divorce' here.

What is the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill?

The bill will aim to reduce the conflict that arises during the divorce procedure and remove the requirement for Petitioners to make allegations about the Respondent’s conduct (adultery or behavior) and remove the requirement that if they cannot rely on conduct, they must have been separated for a period of at least two years.

What is no-fault divorce?

No-fault divorce will allow parties to mutually agree that the marriage has broken down and issue divorce proceedings, without the need for blaming the Respondent for ending the marriage i.e. not having to rely on adultery or behaviour.

When will no fault divorce become law in the UK?

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill was included in the new government’s legislative agenda in the Queen’s Speech in December 2019. The timetable for debate and introduction of the bill is yet to be set, however should be expected in the first part of 2020. We will update as soon as timescales are announced.

Matrimonial Causes Act 1973

What is the current law surrounding divorce?

Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, the only ground for divorce is that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

The irretrievable breakdown is proved by one of the following facts:

  1. Adultery
  2. Behaviour
  3. Separated two years with consent of the Respondent
  4. Separated five years and no consent of the Respondent needed
  5. Desertion

Using fact 1 or 2 involves blame being apportioned to the Respondent for causing the irretrievable breakdown – based either on their adultery or their behaviour.

Facts 3-5 require the parties to be separated for at least two years before they can start the divorce process.

The current law also gives the Respondent the opportunity to defend the divorce if they disagree that the marriage has irretrievably broken or that they do not agree with the reasons given (although it is very rare that a divorce will be defended).

Why no-fault divorce?

There have been calls for reform of the current matrimonial law to reflect the reality that in many cases, neither party is solely at fault for causing the breakdown of the marriage.

Apportioning blame to the Respondent creates even more animosity between the parties and can have a negative impact on children.

Those opposed to the introduction of a no-fault divorce system believe that the sanctity of marriage should be upheld and that the number of divorces will increase if the process to obtain one becomes easier.

How will no fault divorce compare to the current law?

How does no fault divorce work?

Current law


Sole ground – marriage irretrievably broken down

Sole ground – marriage irretrievably broken down

Adultery, behaviour, desertion or separation to prove the sole ground

No need to apportion blame - Statement in Support of sole ground to be submitted

Two-stage divorce – Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute

Two-stage divorce – Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute – but Decree Nisi to be changed to ‘Conditional Order’ and Decree absolute to ‘Final Order’

Ability to defend a divorce

Ability to defend divorce to be removed

One sided application by the Petitioner

Introduce the opportunity of a joint application, but retaining a one sided application by the Petitioner

Bar on petitioning for divorce within one year of the date of marriage

Bar on petitioning for divorce within one year of the date of marriage to be retained


How long does no-fault divorce take?

A minimum time frame of 6 months will be introduced - this is to allow the parties to reflect on their decision to end the marriage

Can no fault divorce be contested?

No – the ability to contest a divorce will be removed with the introduction of no-fault divorce

How to file for no-fault divorce

It will still be an application which has to be submitted to the Court and will still follow the two-stage process of Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute

How much does no-fault divorce cost?

Frettens currently offer a fixed fee divorce for non-defended cases and offer a free initial appointment to discuss your situation and advise on the best path to take.

Is no-fault divorce a good thing?

What does Resolution say about no fault divorce?

Resolution is the largest membership organisation for family justice professionals in England and Wales. Resolution members sign up to our Code of Practice, promoting a non-confrontational approach, which results in better outcomes for families and children.

Resolution believes the laws surrounding divorce should be changed, to allow couples to separate without having to apportion blame on a legal document, and without having to wait at least two years before they can divorce.

Divorce is difficult enough. The legal requirement to assign blame makes it harder for couples to reach an amicable agreement.

It also makes it harder for family justice professionals to help them resolve issues in a constructive way, in line with Resolution’s Code of Practice.

In a recent survey of Resolution members, over 90% agree that no fault divorce should be available to separating couples.

No fault divorce solicitors - Free initial appointment

All our solicitors are members of resolution and are happy to discuss any issues the above raises for you. We offer a free initial appointment for all new clients, either at one of our bright, modern offices, or over the phone.

Our family lawyers offer positive, down to earth advice, and we hope that this initial meeting allows you the time to see this as well.

Contact us if you would like a free initial appointment with a member of our Family Team at our Christchurch or Ringwood offices, with no obligation or charge. Call on 01202 499255 or fill out the form on this page.