No fault divorce: how the biggest change in marriage law in 50 years will impact women

What the controversial no-fault divorce law means to the women who have been waiting for it

Today marks the implementation of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act that allows married couples to start divorce proceedings without having to apportion the blame for the breakdown of their marriage.

Divorce laws have been overhauled for the first time in 50 years today, meaning that married couples will be able to start divorce proceedings without having to apportion the “blame” for the breakdown of their marriage.

The no-fault divorce legislation is expected to put an end to the “blame game” for couples wishing to split amicably and avoid complicated proceedings.

Previously, unless adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion could be proven, the only way to get divorced without the agreement of a spouse was to live separately for five years.

But for those separations that are murkier, with one party resisting, the option of a no-fault divorce is a lifeline. 

You may also like

“What’s great right now, might not be forever”: how my mum and dad’s divorce shaped me

Rebecca* has been anxiously awaiting the law change in order to leave her marriage. As her husband contests her grounds for divorce, she’s found herself feeling trapped.

“When there’s no ‘reason’, it becomes more complicated. You can’t just say that things aren’t working,” she tells Stylist.

“Because it’s me that wants the divorce, there’s this pressure to go out and find dirt on the other person for evidence of wrong-doing, which leads to this mud-slinging match on both sides.”

Rebecca explains that she’s comforted by having the option of a no-fault divorce because there’s “less negative emotion”.

The change in law has been welcomed by many who say the move will make divorces easier and more amicable for those who require them
The change in law has been welcomed by many who say the move will make divorces easier and more amicable for those who require them

“Separation is hard enough as it is without adding additional anxiety and stress, and having to be really surreptitious about things,” she says.

“Problems usually don’t happen in a vacuum and sometimes there is fault on both sides. But you shouldn’t have to come up with a long list of reasons why you want to leave. You should just be able to do it.”

For Rebecca, it’s all about the ability to make that choice and the empowerment that brings.

“It’s very, very difficult to say out loud that things are no longer working,” she shares. “This is my second time at trying to get things right, and in my first divorce, things could be settled by mediation. But that isn’t an option for me this time.

“I want us both to ride off into the sunset in opposite directions and be happy, and at the moment, a no-fault divorce is the best way to do that.”

You may also like

“What getting divorced before I turned 30 taught me about marriage and relationships”

The change has proved somewhat controversial. A survey by Stowe Family Law found that over 1 in 3 respondents thought that both parties should have to agree to a divorce, with 56% suggesting that this change in law will encourage people to get divorced.

However, many have identified the development as positive and long-overdue.

“A divorce process that removes any element of blame or causation to the act of ending your marriage may be difficult for some people,” Julian Hawkhead, a senior partner at Stowe Family Law, tells Stylist.

“While no-fault divorce will not ease the pain that people feel when their marriages or civil partnerships end, it will hopefully help them get through the legal process of separation with less emotional and financial cost and help prepare them for the next chapter of their lives.”

The move is expected to provide salvation for victims of domestic abuse too.

“Until now, abusers have used the pitfalls of divorce law to trap victims in the marriage because they were able to contest the allegations,” Elaine Parker, CEO and founder of dating app Safer Date explains.

“Because the need to make allegations about the other spouse has been removed, this is no longer an option for perpetrators.

“For years the law has held victims back from escaping violent marriages and allowed abusers to coerce them into staying. It’s finally been recognised how outdated the original law is and we’re pleased to see these changes implemented.

“The next step is to allow victims of domestic abuse to leave their marriages as quickly as possible; a 20-week cooling-off period is a long time when you’re in an abusive marriage.”

Sign up for the latest news and must-read features from Stylist, so you don't miss out on the conversation.

By entering my email I agree to Stylist’s Privacy Policy

Images: Getty