Step-by-step guide to no-fault divorce
Since April 2022, couples have been able to seek a divorce or dissolution after one year of marriage without having to blame their former partner for any reason. Prior to the change in the law, couples who agreed to separate had to wait at least two years before they could divorce or dissolve a civil partnership. If they wanted to permanently end their relationship prior to this, then blame had to be attributed to their spouse. There were no alternative options.
Linda Pope, an Associate Solicitor in the family team with Miles & Partners Solicitors, in London explains,
‘Thankfully the introduction of no-fault divorce means you can now file an application straight away without blame being attributed to either spouse. It is hoped this will lead to less acrimony, and hostility which could ease financial negotiations and foster better relations between separating parents which can only be seen as a positive for any children and their ongoing relationship as co-parents.’
Linda provides a step-by-step guide to the no-fault divorce process.
Step 1 – Consult an experienced family solicitor
A divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership is not a step anyone takes lightly. Not only will you have to contend with the emotional turmoil and anxiety, it will also mean significant changes for your family, and for your finances. It is important that you speak to a specialist family lawyer about the implications and how you and any children can be best protected.
We will arrange an initial consultation with you to understand your family circumstances, what you would like to happen, and what concerns you have. We will then provide you with advice, outlining the steps which can be taken to best achieve your desired outcomes.
Step 2 – The application
Once you have decided to proceed with a divorce or dissolution, we will prepare the application for you. You must have been married at least one year before you can file an application.
If you and your former spouse both agree that the relationship has ended, then you can apply for divorce/dissolution jointly. You can also continue to apply on your own. Regardless of which route you choose; we will prepare the application for you and lodge this together with your marriage certificate with the Court using the online portal.
Step 3 – Wait for court papers
Your application will then be processed by the court. This step is known as the court ‘issuing’ your divorce. The timescale for this occurring varies, but it usually takes around two to four weeks depending on judicial availability. Your case is added to the court system, and will be given a court reference. The court office will then return the issued papers.
Step 4 – The acknowledgement
If you have applied jointly, you and your former spouse will have to complete an acknowledgement of receipt of the court papers.
If you applied alone then your former spouse will be sent the court issued papers and they will be asked to return an acknowledgement of service form to the court within 14 days. In this form your former spouse will state if agree the relationship has irretrievably broken down. Your spouse can no longer consent the proceedings. They can only dispute the proceedings if they have a legal reason.
If your former spouse wishes to dispute the divorce, they must lodge their reasons as to why. Under the new law, the reasons the court will permit are very limited, such as claiming the marriage has already been dissolved, the marriage was invalid or the UK Court does not have jurisdiction to deal with the divorce or dissolution. For example, if you live abroad the courts in England and Wales might not be able to deal with your application. Disagreeing with the divorce means you will probably have to attend Court and a Judge will have to make a determination whether the courts in England and Wales can deal with your divorce/dissolution.
If your former spouse fails to return the acknowledgement of service, then we would either make a further application to the court to dispense with service (which is where all attempts to serve notice to the Respondent have failed) or deemed service (which is a court order to prove the application is ‘deemed to have been served’ on the respondent who has chosen not to return the acknowledgement of service any time after the 14 days) to enable you to proceed with your divorce or dissolution on an undefended basis.
Step 5 – Reflection period
A 20-week period for reflection is a new provision and allows couples to adjust to their marriage or civil partnership being formerly dissolved as well as time to discuss any child or financial arrangements to be put in place.
A divorce or dissolution of a civil partnership does not resolve the separation of your marital assets; it simply dissolves your marriage. Most separating couples, with the help of their lawyers, are able to reach a financial settlement over the division of their assets, which can then be transferred to a court order. If an agreement cannot be achieved, then you may need to issue separate proceedings known as an application for financial relief for the court to determine the division of assets.
Likewise, a divorce or dissolution will not determine arrangements for your children, such as where they are to live or how much time they will spend with each parent if there is a dispute between you and your spouse. Most couples resolve these issues directly themselves, or with some help from their solicitors. We can advise you on what considerations you should have when discussing the long-term arrangements for your children, and help you to reach an amicable way forward with your former spouse. If an agreement is not possible, then we can advise you on the options you have via mediation or court to seek a determination on your child arrangements.
The period of 20 weeks is a minimum period, you can take a longer period to discuss and resolve your issues if needed.
We can advise you on your rights and entitlements to the marital assets and will ensure you receive the best settlement possible taking into account the available assets and your needs.
Step 6 – Conditional order
After the expiry of the 20-week reflection period from when your divorce application was issued by the court, we can apply for a conditional order (this used to be called a decree nisi). It is an order confirming that the court is satisfied there is no legal reason why you cannot divorce or dissolve your civil partnership. If the court is satisfied, then they provide a certificate with a date and time when your conditional order will be granted.
Step 7 – Cooling off period
After the making of the conditional order, you have to wait 43 days (i.e., 6 weeks and 1 day) before you can apply for the Final Order. The period of six weeks and 1 day remains from the previous divorce process and allows couples a cooling off period to ensure they really do wish to proceed to dissolve their marriage.
Step 8 – Final order
At the expiry of the six weeks and 1 day cooling off period, we can apply for your final order (previously known as the decree absolute). It is not until the final order is pronounced that your divorce or dissolution of the civil partnership is legally finalised, and your marriage dissolved.
How we can help
If you are contemplating divorce, or just want some preliminary advice on the steps involved and what it would mean for you, please contact Linda Pope in the family law team on 0207 426 0400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.