Why have divorce applications soared by 50% after no fault divorce was introduced?

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As soon as no fault divorce was introduced on the 6th April 2022 more than 3000 couples petitioned to end their marriage within days.  This is opposed to the 1500 that would usually apply for a divorce in an average week which left us asking why divorce applications have soared by 50% after no fault divorce was introduced?

The short answer is there is a definite perception no fault divorce has made separating easier.  This is undoubtedly because the new legislation means that there is no longer a requirement for couples to apportion blame to one or other spouse to end their marriage.

The spike could of course have been a reaction to the long awaited introduction of no fault divorce.  Perhaps people had been holding back believing the process would be easier for them, certainly one of the ‘selling points’ both the government and family lawyers promoted before its introduction.

All the way along the line no fault divorce was vaunted to have been designed to help divorcing couples to resolve their issues more amicably and with less conflict not only for them but also for their children, all too often the demographic that suffers most during a divorce.  With this in mind, it doesn’t come as a surprise that there was an immediate spike although we await the more balanced quarterly figures (due in June) to see whether the trend has flattened with time.

However, there are other reasons why no fault divorce could have persuaded couples to being divorce proceedings.

What are the benefits of no-fault divorce?

Instead of having to assign the blame for an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage because of one party’s unreasonable behaviour, adultery or desertion or because the couple has lived apart from more than two years (with agreement) or more than five years (without agreement), a couple can now issue a ‘statement of irretrievable breakdown’ without having to apportion blame.

This will definitely reduce the ill-feeling and animosity that arise during divorces, even when the initial decision to separate was made relatively amicably. 

However, no fault divorce will also speed up the divorce process. 

There is now a minimum timeframe of 6 months from the application stage to the final divorce.  The option for either party to contest the divorce has also been removed.  This will minimise potential delays during the divorce process not to mention the time it used to take to reach a point where the divorce could start.

A faster, less combative divorce is also likely to be a cheaper divorce.  Without protracted legal exchanges and repeated court hearings, the time (and cost per hour) of a divorce will naturally fall in many cases.

Equally from the financial perspective, it is easy to see why couples could feel the final monetary settlement will be fairer.  Settlements will now have to be solely based one spouse’s need and the other’s ability to pay rather than on retribution for the bad things one party did.

However, perhaps the greatest benefits lie in the personal rather than the financial. 

It is of course hugely beneficial that the process will vastly reduce  the emotional and psychological impact a divorce can have on children and other dependents but the positive impact it will have on those who have been forced to end their marriage because of abuse can’t be underestimated either. 

As there is no legal obligation to apportion fault, there is no longer a legal obligation to testify publicly about the abuse that occurred.  This could spare many spouses the horrendous prospect of having to relive the worst moments of their lives in front of the Court.

While these benefits are attractive, no fault divorce still has its critics. 

Some feel that from a moral or religious point of view, making divorce easier threatens the sanctity of marriage.  However, in addition to potentially devaluing marriage vows there is also the potential that, with a faster direction of travel, pensions may not be dealt with adequately and elements of financial settlements may be missed.

Moreover, the new legislation will make divorce unilateral.  This means only one spouse needs to think the marriage is beyond repair before beginning the application process.  Eventually this could lead to divorce being tabled too early, possibly before a real effort is made to save the marriage as perhaps would have been the case before no fault divorce. 

Arguably this could lead to the same level of animosity that would have been present under the previous regime and to children suffering the same level of hurt and upset that no fault divorce was brought in to curtail.

If you would like to discuss a family case with one of our experienced family barristers, please get in touch today.