The UK government has announced that as of 6th April 2022, divorcing couples will no longer have to attribute blame to one another for the breakdown of their marriage under the new Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020.

Family law professionals and campaign groups have long been lobbying for a change to the current legislation, of which many deem outdated. Following the Supreme Court ruling on the Owens v Owens case, the Ministry of Justice looked to reform the divorce process.

Owens v Owens

In 1978, a Mr and Mrs Owens married, and nearly four decades later, Mrs Owens filed for divorce on the grounds that her husband demonstrated ‘unreasonable behaviour’. As such, she could not be reasonably expected to live with him.

Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, to file for divorce, it must be proven that the marriage had broken down ‘irretrievably’, citing one of five ‘facts’:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Separation by consent for two years
  • Separation for five years
  • Desertion

While the Judge identified the Owens’ marriage had broken down irretrievably, he dismissed the petition on the grounds that the 27 examples of unreasonable behaviour provided by Mrs Owens were insufficient, and ‘at best flimsy’.

In 2018, Mrs Owens appealed to the Supreme Court, which unanimously dismissed her appeal claiming their only role was to apply the law laid down by Parliament. Under the 1973 Act, the only other option for Mrs Owens was to file for divorce after two full years separated with her husband’s consent, or five years separated without his consent.

Family law solicitors have long considered this case as a need to reconsider the long-standing campaign, successfully lead by legal campaign group Resolution, for a No-Fault Divorce law.  

The new No-Fault law aims to ease the impact of unnecessary conflict on couples and children, remove the ‘blame game’ element of divorce, and allow families to move on with their lives.

As stated by The Law Society, from 6th April, the new legislation will:

  • Replace the ‘five facts’ with a new requirement to provide a statement of irretrievable breakdown
  • Remove the possibility of contesting the divorce
  • Introduce an option for a joint application
  • Make sure language is in plain English, for example, changing ‘decree nisi’ to conditional order and ‘decree absolute’ to final order

These changes will also apply to the dissolution of civil partnerships.

The Act also introduces a minimum 20-week ‘reflection period’ between the start of proceedings and the conditional order, to give couples the opportunity to reconsider.

A 6-week period will be introduced between the conditional order and final order.

It will no longer be possible to contest a divorce except on limited grounds such as jurisdiction.

For help and advice on the new divorce process, or to speak to one of our family law experts, get in touch.