Until 6 April 2022 the sole ground for divorce was the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage based upon one of five facts:
- Unreasonable behaviour
- Two years’ separation plus consent
- Five years’ separation
From 6 April 2022, no fault divorce was introduced in England and Wales as part of several changes to English divorce law being brought in by the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020.
No fault divorce allows couples to end their marriage or civil partnership without assigning fault for the breakdown of their relationship. The new legislation removes the possibility of one spouse contesting that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and allows couples to apply individually or jointly for a divorce order.
In joint applications, both parties will apply for their divorce together. They will be known as applicant 1 and applicant 2, rather than applicant and respondent as in sole applications. This option allows couples to apply together, seeking to reduce animosity and complexity.
If the application is issued as a sole application, there will still be no fault attributed to the breakdown of the marriage or civil partnership, but there will be an application and a respondent. In sole applications, the court will serve the application on the respondent, unless the applicant requests to serve the application directly to the respondent. The court will serve the divorce application on the respondent by email to the respondent’s usual email address and must be accompanied by a notice of service sent to the respondent’s postal address. The respondent will have 14 days from service to acknowledge the proceedings.
After 20 weeks from the date the Court ‘issues’ (starts the divorce proceedings), it will be possible to apply for a conditional order. A conditional order is a document confirming the parties can divorce. On a sole application, the application will be made by the applicant. On a joint application, both parties will apply, unless one party is willing to engage and proceed with the application, it is possible to ‘switch’ the application from joint to a sole application and proceed to apply for the conditional order. This can only happen when applying for the conditional or final divorce order.
Six weeks and one day later an application can be made for the final divorce order, previously known as the decree absolute.
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