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No-Fault Divorce: The Blame Game Continues

View profile for Caroline  Elliott
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Six months on from landmark no-fault divorce reforms, legal experts and sociologists alike are keeping a close eye on the take-up and the reaction to the new separation option. Caroline Elliott, partner and family law specialist, provides insight on what the six months since rollout have looked like.

“The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act (2020) was, and still is, a major development in the modern history of divorce law. It introduced an entirely new basis for obtaining a divorce given that there is no longer the opportunity to lay fault on the other party. While family lawyers welcomed the end of the ‘blame game’, a surprising outcome has been the reluctance of some clients to forgo the chance to ‘have their say’."

“Explaining to clients that they cannot now apportion blame – or defend the case or seek costs from the other person – has been an unexpected part of the new system. As lawyers we thought people would welcome the reduction in acrimony which no-fault divorce aims to provide, but it seems that some people feel cheated of the opportunity to tell the court what went wrong."

“That said, most people have embraced the new regime, and even though the online system is far from technically perfect, it does seem to be working fairly well. Indeed figures just released show that there was an increase in the number of divorce applications over the same period last year when the new system went live – I suspect partly because people had been waiting for a no-fault application to be available."

“It is important to note that the no-fault process only dissolves the marriage itself. Family law specialists, like myself, will almost always be required during the divorce to help resolve the contentious elements of separation, such as children and finances. Although the new law provides some autonomy in that clients can progress the actual divorce themselves, it appears that many people still prefer to continue using legal representation for this, instead of taking on another task for themselves during what is undoubtedly a difficult and often stressful time."

“It’s worth acknowledging the positive aspects of the reforms. Couples now have the option to file independently or for a joint divorce, which is a testament to the modernisation of law and a move towards digital processes. As a sector, we have been guilty of letting some traditions slow down change and with society always advancing, we must be open to new ways of working and advising clients."

“Historically, legal support has been almost essential to complete a divorce so it’s not surprising that there has not yet been a major shift in thinking, and I don’t think that will really change. People will still seek help at a very difficult time in their lives, and simplifying the dissolving of the marriage through no-fault divorce really only represents a small part of that process."

“No-fault divorces are currently in their infancy but the new law seems to have made no real difference for the majority of cases which will still rely on legal representation to sort out children and money issues.”