No-fault divorce spike and misconceptions

No-fault divorce spike and misconceptions

New HMCTS figures have revealed that the number of couples filing for divorce this year has doubled. This follows the introduction of no-fault divorce laws in April.

In April 2021, there were 6,674 filings, compared to this year’s April 12,978 filings. We certainly saw this jump in our own practice – in the period April to June 2022, we saw a 46% increase in divorce enquiries compared to the same period last year.

The no-fault divorce introduction was a long awaited and welcomed change in law, having been postponed last summer despite years-long campaigning for a law change. Many family lawyers predicted a boom in divorce filings as couples decided to wait until it was introduced, hoping to avoid the blame-game of the old system.

Some who were already going through divorce proceedings went as far as withdrawing from the old proceedings and applying for a divorce under the new law. We acted in a contested matter where the couple agreed to the withdrawal of the petitions and proceeded under the new law.

Yet, for the vast majority of my clients, they were aware of the introduction of the no-fault divorce, but very few knew anything beyond that in terms of how the divorce process would actually work. There are still understandable misconceptions that we are frequently having to educate clients on.

Some clients felt slightly let down by the introduction of the “cooling off”. Under the new laws, the parties will have to wait 20 weeks from the issuing of the application before applying for the first divorce order. Some couples assumed divorce would be completed in a much shorter amount of time on first glance. However, this depends. In the past, some couples preferred to wait to commence the proceedings for two years so they could rely on the separation rather than unreasonable behaviour. Now both these steps have been completely removed, the cooling off period could actually be shorter with the added benefit of not having an alternative option which could create unnecessary antagonism.

I would be surprised if the increase of divorce enquiries continued at its current rate, despite critics deeming the law change as the end of marriage. What this spike has highlighted is that many couples desired a simpler and more amicable divorce, rather than an antagonistic one which added (or arguably created) unnecessary fuel to the fire when dealing with the emotional impact of a split and how to live a life without your spouse; deciding care of the children; and how to split the finances.

As many lawyers reading this will know, these new laws will not remove conflict entirely from the process – which could arise in deciding the financial arrangements and care of any children. However, it will remove a hostile start and encourage more collaboration on these important decisions, with more couples opting for mediation instead of the courts. The requirement to jointly apply for a divorce will encourage a more amicable approach, too.

Overall, there is a sense of relief from the majority of our clients and the change has lifted a great weight off married couples’ shoulders as they know they can start the process peacefully. It will be interesting to hear in due course how divorcing couples have found the new process – some may have experienced a divorce under the old system, and it will be interesting to hear their perspective in particular. However, as all family lawyers know, no two, three or four (or more) divorces are the same for an individual – emotionally, financially and practically!

Iwona Durlak, Senior Partner at IMD Solicitors LLP

Iwona Durlak

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