No-fault divorce and protection of finances

Not everything in life works out the way people expect. The same applies to marriages and the divorce reform is a recognition of this. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 has caused a shift within the divorce process, now removing the element of fault for divorces initiated after 31 March 2022.

Divorces under the old law

Prior to the reform, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 placed a burden on the parties to prove the marriage broke down for one of the following 5 grounds:

  • Adultery;
  • Unreasonable behaviour;
  • Desertion;
  • Long term separation (2 years separation with consent of parties & 5 years separation without consent).

Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 there was also the option was for one spouse to request the other to pay their legal costs and the court fee. The court in such circumstances would bear in mind what caused the marriage to break down and if it was found to be by way of fault, it was common for the at fault spouse to incur the financial burden of the divorce costs. The shift to no-fault divorce removes the risk of one spouse having a cost order made against them on the basis of fault. Separating couples now can choose to share to costs to assist with the amicable breakup.

Divorcing under the reforms

Even though the 5 grounds for divorce are no longer applicable, the couple still have to demonstrate that there has been an irretrievable breakdown in marriage, albeit not having to attach fault to one of the parties. This is now done by way of a statement and is sufficient on its own to procure the divorce, without the need for any further evidence.

The application for a divorce order can be made by one spouse, or both of them. The legal terminology for divorce has also had a revamp. What was previously known as ‘Decree Nisi’ is now changed to ‘Conditional Order’, and ‘Decree Absolute’ has now changed to ‘Final Order’. The reforms have cancelled out the opportunity to consent a divorce, allowing people to escape unhappy marriages without having to wait out the separation rule, or cause animosity between their former spouse by alleging fault.

In addition, the reforms have introduced a new 20 week cooling off period between the initial application for divorce proceedings and the conditional order. There is also a further cooling off period of 6 weeks and one day between the conditional order and final order. This awards the parties time to deal with any financial matters as discussed below.

Protecting your finances

While the aim of no-fault divorce is for the matter to be dealt with amicably, it is unsafe for the parties to assume that their financial position is automatically protected. The final divorce order (previously referred to as decree absolute) may legally end the marriage, but it does not end any financial commitments.

Therefore, it is important to seek legal advice and obtain a divorce financial order to protect your position at the time of the divorce and in the future. There are two types of court orders to award your finances protection: Consent Orders and Clean Break Orders. The latter is important for people with no current assets to consider, as any future assets one may acquire will be at risk of the former spouse making a financial claim to inherit a share of the same. A Clean Break Order will sever any financial ties and protect future assets. A Consent Order allows spouses with assets to create a legally binding financial agreement, dealing with how their assets will be divided. Once such an order is approved by the court, it will have the same effect as a Clean Break Order and sever financial ties after the current assets have been dealt with accordingly.

If you would like more information on finances and divorce, please do get in touch on 0151 639 8273.

We offer fixed fees for divorce and finance matters. In certain circumstances we are also able to offer legal aid.