Today (Thursday 6 April 2023) marks the first anniversary of no-fault divorce provisions coming into force. After more than 30 years of campaigning, Resolution – the campaigning body representing 6,500 family justice professionals – and its members played an integral part in ensuring the biggest shake up in divorce law for more than half a century.
No-fault divorce finally became law in April 2022 meaning separating couples no longer have to play the blame game in order to be granted a divorce. Resolution worked tirelessly to make no-fault divorce a reality, to ensure more separating families can achieve amicable agreements.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act (2020) was introduced on 6 April 2022, marking a significant change in divorce law for England and Wales. The act ends completely the need for separating couples to apportion blame for the breakdown of their marriage, helping them to instead focus on key practical decisions involving children or their finances and look to the future.
Juliet Harvey, National Chair of Resolution says: “This historic change marked the end of the blame game for divorcing couples, removing the outdated and unnecessary need for them to find fault with their ex on the divorce petition.
“We have been pleased to see that in its first year the reform has started to make the divorce process in England and Wales kinder and has increased the chances of successful non-court dispute resolution – in turn reducing the burden on the family court.”
Resolution members believe that the experience of no-fault divorce in the first year has been almost universally positive. Members have found that animosity has been removed from divorce from the outset and discussions about children or financial concerns start on a much more positive footing. We have also been pleased to hear that our members have found it easier to persuade clients not to issue court applications.
Jo Edwards, Chair of Resolution’s Family Law Reform Committee, says: “Despite no fault divorce signalling the biggest change in divorce law in more than 50 years, it has passed without a hitch and has led to the more dignified process for which Resolution and others had campaigned for many years.
“While the numbers of divorcing couples have risen, this was always expected, as a result of people waiting for the new legislation to come into force before applying for a divorce. This is consistent with the experience of other countries who have introduced similar reforms.
“The process is far more straightforward for lay parties to make their own application online and save for one or two blips the online portal has worked well.”
Continuing to campaign for change
Resolution continues to call for further reforms to the family justice system, to reflect the needs of modern families, and to ensure that more steps are taken to help separating families minimise conflict and reach lasting solutions, in particular focusing on the needs of children.
Juliet Harvey said: “We recognise that today, all families are different, and a one size fits all approach or process does not support families and children. We need to ensure no family is left behind and will continue to push for further reform to help reduce conflict among all families facing separation. This includes strengthening our call for legal protection for cohabiting couples, who are the fastest-growing family type in the UK.”
There is also a need to divert more private law family cases away from court. Demand on the family courts has never been higher, and families are facing massive delays – the most recent figures show it is taking almost a year on average to determine arrangements for children, with contested financial matters taking nearly two years.
Jo Edwards continues: “Given the ease of the online divorce process and the huge swathes of unrepresented parties 10 years after LASPO, many people may be divorcing ignorant of their financial rights and therefore bringing no claims.
“It is high time that the government looked at some targeted financial support for initial legal advice, to ensure that couples are aware of their rights and to try to divert cases away from the family court to bring down family court case numbers.”
It has been 10 years since legal aid was removed for the majority of family work, and mediation numbers for legal aid cases have plummeted to about half the level they were before the cuts, demonstrating the importance of legal advice in guiding couples into mediation. At the same time, the proportion of cases in the family courts where neither party had legal representation has rocketed from 13% in 2013 to 39% last year.
Juliet Harvey concludes: “It is far better to help couples make informed choices to find the route that gives them the best chance of reaching constructive, lasting outcomes. Government should provide support for early legal advice so that separating couples are better equipped to make choices about important issues like family finances and what arrangements are made for their children.”