In April of 2022, ‘No-Fault Divorce’, which removed the requirement for fault to be placed with one of the individuals for the breakdown of a marriage, finally came into force. It represents a major change to the legal and public perception of divorce, making it significantly easier for couples who have reached the limit of their relationship to legally end the marriage in a way that enables both parties to walk away without the need for blame.
Until the spring of this year, couples looking to divorce were left with a few limited options for completing their divorce application, all of which were intended to prove that the marriage had broken down beyond repair.
Now, blame has been lifted. Early critics of the move to introduce a No Fault Divorce were concerned that it would make divorce too easy for couples who may otherwise have been able to work through their differences, and the marriage would survive. The counter argument was, of course, that whether or not the marriage stood a chance of being fixed was not (and should not be) up to parliament.
New statistics show that 2022 has seen the number of divorce applications filed in England and Wales has risen drastically. Between April and June, the first three months of life under No Fault Divorce, divorce applications were up 22% on the same period of 2021 – and the highest since early 2022.
So, were early critics right? Are more people jumping to easy conclusions, or is this symptomatic of something more complex?
The appeal of amicability, rather than speed
It may not be the relative ease and rapidity involved in getting divorced that appeals to couples whose relationships are ‘on the rocks’. After all, we are all aware of the permanency of divorce – the profound impact on family, finances, and homeownership (to name just a few).
Instead, No Fault Divorce may pose a particular appeal to couples who are not ending the marriage under explosive, acrimonious circumstances. The previous options for divorce would have necessitated some sort of ‘blame game’ – or, alternatively, a two year or five year separation before the divorce petition could be issued. With the prospect of No Fault Divorce on the horizon, it may well be the case that many couples chose to defer their divorce applications until the legalities could reflect the cordiality of their separation.
While No Fault Divorce is, undeniably, easier than the previous route divorcing couples had to take, it is not so easy that marriages can end at the drop of a hat. With the previous approach, apportioning blame represented only one aspect of a much more complicated process – and many of those complications remain. Working with a solicitor is still a necessity for all but the simplest cases. At the acclaimed law firm Willans, their divorce solicitors in Cheltenham hold many years’ combined experience – something that has not been nullified or made superfluous by No Fault Divorce. Couples still need help separating their lives, even if they see no need to apportion blame.
The pandemic backlog
The impact of Covid-19 was certainly felt in the world of family law. With the number of couples divorcing increasing during the pandemic, and courts having to adapt to remote hearings, plenty of divorce applications were delayed, and the backlog is just now being cleared in 2022.
This will, of course, mean that for the foreseeable future divorce rates remain high, and skew any statistics that may otherwise paint a picture of No Fault Divorce’s impact on the country’s divorce rates.
The cost-of-living crisis
While Covid-19 may well be receding into the distance, the country is currently in the grips of a new crisis. With inflation pushing the cost-of-living sky high and an increasing number of households feeling the stress of financial woes, it is only natural that the divorce rate remains high.
Then again, it could be argued that the cost-of-living crisis may also be responsible for reducing the rate of divorce, since the cost of filing an application and seeking financial advice may not be one that families can take on right now.
Time will tell whether or not No Fault Divorce is responsible for a sustained ‘high’ for divorce rates across England and Wales, or whether this peak can be explained as a result of couples deferring their divorce until the more amicable option became available earlier in 2022.