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No-Fault Divorce is finally here!

On 06 April 2022, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, came into force. This has brought about the biggest reform of divorce laws, in England and Wales, in half a century. Couples looking to separate are no longer required to lay blame on one another to prove the irretrievable breakdown of their marriage. The new law sets the stage for a more amicable divorce process between couples.

Previously, the Applicant (or then Petitioner) would have been required to prove that there had been irretrievable breakdown of their marriage based on at least one of five facts, being (1) adultery (2) unreasonable behaviour, (3), desertion for two years or  more, (4) separation for two years or more with the other party’s consent or (5) separation for five years or more. This would often polarise the parties’ positions before proceedings had even started, giving rise to unnecessary conflict.

Under the new no-fault divorce procedure, the applicant must believe that the marriage has broken down irretrievably and they are simply required to sign a statement confirming this.

Anyone applying for a divorce or to end their civil partnership will be able to either apply individually (sole applications) or jointly (joint applications).

What Does this Mean for Couples Looking to Apply for Divorce?

The Application

Sole applications can be made online via the HMCTS digital service or by lodging a paper application at court. If the applicant has legal representation their solicitor must lodge their application through the online service. The court fee payable is £593.

A sole application for divorce cannot be changed to a joint application at a later stage. Therefore, applicants will need to decide this at the outset.

Once the sole application is made the court will serve it on the Respondent. The Respondent is required to acknowledge receipt of the Application within 14 working days of receiving the Application, by completing and sending back an ‘Acknowledgement of Service’ form to the Court.  This will then be sent to the Applicant.

After 20 weeks the Applicant can apply for a Conditional Order. The Court will then notify the other side if the Conditional Order has been made.

Once the Conditional Order has been made, the Applicant must wait a period of 6 weeks and one day before becoming entitled to give notice for the Conditional Order to be made Final.  That usually involves filling out a simple form and sending it to the Court. The Final Order follows within a few days.  You will not be divorced until the Final Order has been made.

In a joint application the procedure is mostly the same as a sole application. However, both parties to the marriage are essentially joint applicants. The applicants will be known as “Applicant one” and “Applicant two”, rather than the Applicant and the Respondent.

Joint applicants can change from a joint application to a sole application after the application has been submitted. However, this can only happen at the conditional and final order stage.

Responding to a divorce application

If your spouse has made a sole application for divorce, the court will send you (as the respondent) a copy of the application by email with a follow-up letter from the court with details of how to access the application. This letter will contain the divorce application, the Notice of Proceedings and the Acknowledgement of Service form.

You should receive the application within 28 days of it being issued by the court, unless the Applicant has permission to serve you later than this.

You will need to fill out and return the Acknowledgement of Service form to the court, within 14 days of receipt of the application. Your solicitor can complete this on your behalf and then file it at court.

We recommend that you seek legal advice prior to responding to any divorce application.

Disputing a Divorce

You can only dispute a divorce or dissolution in specific circumstances. The Respondent cannot dispute that there has been an irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Divorce and dissolution applications can only be disputed because:

  • the Respondent disputes the jurisdiction of the Court in England and Wales;
  • the Respondent disputes the validity of the marriage or civil partnership (for example, if the parties have not entered into a legally valid marriage);
  • the marriage or civil partnership has already been legally ended;
  • it will also be possible for the Respondent to challenge proceedings for reasons such as fraud and procedural compliance (for example, the marriage was not formed in accordance with the relevant rules and regulations)

The 20 week period

After the court has issued the application, you must wait a period of 20 weeks before you can apply for a conditional order, which is the first stage of the divorce.

Conditional Order

The conditional order is the first of two orders made in the divorce proceedings. The conditional order does not end your marriage. It confirms that the court accepts you are entitled to a divorce. You remain married until the conditional order is made final.

Final Order

You must wait a period of six weeks and one day after the date of the conditional order, before you can apply to the court for a final order.

This is the second order made in the divorce and it is this order that will end your marriage.

Applying for a divorce

At Freedman Green Dhokia, we welcome the new no-fault divorce law reform as it brings us one step closer to ensuring that the law is in line with the world we live in today.

Our lawyers are committed in advising couples throughout the divorce process in a sensitive, time and cost-efficient manner.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article, or need advice about a divorce or civil partnership dissolution, please do not hesitate to contact our Family Department on 020 7625 6003 or Priya Dhokia (Head of Family & Private Wealth) by email at p.dhokia@fgdlaw.co.uk