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Reflecting on two years of no-fault divorce laws: A solicitor’s perspective

Divorce has been on the rise since 1971.

a man and woman arguing on a sofa

April 2022 saw the biggest reform to divorce laws in decades when The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill was introduced.


These new laws modernised the divorce process, making it less damaging and more reflective of why modern-day marriages fail.


Gina Samuel-Richards is a family solicitor with a wealth of experience and a reputation for resilience and dedication. As director of AGR Law based in Leicester, Gina shares how her clients have benefited from the new laws two years after they were implemented.


How did the new laws change the divorce process?

In brief, the new laws mean couples in England and Wales can now divorce without assigning blame to either party and joint applications are now permitted.


In addition, the option of contesting a divorce has been abolished, freeing an unhappy party from remaining trapped in a failing marriage.


The language used was also updated and simplified. For example, the ‘decree absolute’ has been renamed the ‘final order.’ Furthermore, a period of reflection has been introduced, allowing couples more time to consider their decision to divorce.


When the new divorce laws were introduced, there was speculation that the waiting period would prevent 'quickie' divorces. Has this been the case?

I have not found there has been a difference in the reasons why individuals are choosing to divorce. Our clients are adults who have concluded that their marriages no longer work, for whatever the reason may be.


On choosing to divorce, they still have the same considerations, such as affordability, starting a new chapter in their life, providing for children, or even meeting their own needs in later life and whether they will have to return to work.


It was anticipated that some couples would wait for the bill to be introduced to begin proceedings, which would cause an initial influx of cases. Did the number of divorcing couples increase due to the introduction of the new laws?

Some couples waited for the new change in the law as they did not want to attribute blame where they had simply fallen out of love.


However, since 1971 divorce been on the rise. Take for example the ONS figures which say there were 113,505 divorces in 2021. This is a 9.6% increase to 2020.


Some may say there may have been a delay in people making applications in 2020 because of the pandemic, but in 2019 there were 107,599 divorces: a rise of 18.4% on the previous year. I did expect to see an increase in cases as per the trend, but I would have been very surprised if there was a significant increase in aggregate. But the ONS figures for 2022 show that divorce rates decreased by 29.5% when compared to 2021.


Civil Partnership dissolutions also decreased by 22.8%. The ONS suggests the mandatory waiting period under the Divorce, Dissolutions and Separation Act 2022 may have been a factor. It also suggests the increase in 2021 may have been down to the delay in granting divorces due to Covid restrictions.


However, I also think one of the reasons for the decrease in divorce is that people can’t afford to divorce due to the high costs of living, so they are choosing to remain sharing a house, although living separate lives.


Has the lack of accountability led to frustration for those who blame their spouse for the breakdown of their marriage?

Unfortunately, some individuals want the court system to attribute blame to the other party. In family law, the court is not typically interested in doing so. The Family Court is only interested in reaching what it deems to be a fair and equitable position to enable each party to get on with their lives.


Sometimes, clients are happy to know they have been heard by someone else and for their feelings to be validated. However, whilst we are empathetic to their feelings, we also try to steer the conversation to find a resolution as quickly and pain-free as possible.


We try to encourage our clients to be conciliatory and non-confrontational, as having a more focussed approach to resolving the issues helps them achieve their objectives much quicker and it is less costly.


After campaigning for more than 30 years, Resolution members finally achieved the critical reform they had been fighting for, never giving up despite slow government progress. Were you frustrated by how long it took?

I was quite surprised when I read Baroness Lady Hale’s book, ‘Spider Woman’ that she had been part of the Law Commission which recommended ‘no-fault’ divorce in the 1970s.


The government did not take the recommendation on board, and instead we had the fault system as per the 1973 Matrimonial Causes Act. I feel this was a missed opportunity, especially seeing how society was changing, and divorce did not hold the same taboos as before.


Many countries had a no-fault system, which had not led to disproportionate divorce rates. I saw many clients becoming frustrated that they could not end a marriage which they felt had run its course.


To find out more about no-fault divorce and how AGR Law can help you, email hello@agrlaw.co.uk or call 0116 340 0094.

 

Parts of this blog were updated on the release of the ONS divorce stats for 2022.

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