THIS month has seen the biggest shake up of divorce laws for 50 years.

The new ‘no-fault’ legislation introduced on April 6 means married couples are now able to divorce more amicably, without assigning blame.

The changes to the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 enables couples to divorce on the grounds of ‘irreconcilable differences,’ either individually or together, and without pointing the finger of blame.

Prior to this couples had to state why they were divorcing, with the three most common legal reasons being allegations of the other’s unreasonable behaviour, allegations of adultery, or the fact that they have been already separated for two years, provided their spouse agreed.

Removing the need for evidence of one party being to blame for the failure of the marriage should reduce the acrimony and conflict that often arises during a divorce, and particularly when the fault-based grounds of behaviour and adultery are contested.

Before these changes, unless someone could prove there was adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion, the only way they could divorce without their spouse agreeing to it, was to live apart for five years.

We always advise that a no conflict approach to divorce is the best way forward, especially where there are children involved, and we support our clients through their own journeys.

We had a lot of clients who chose to wait for the changes in April, but there were still some people who were keen to push ahead to divorce right away. They wanted to have their say about why things went wrong in their marriage and found it therapeutic to do so.

Other newly introduced changes mean there is now a minimum period of 20 weeks, between starting proceedings and applying for a conditional order. This has been introduced in response to concerns that the reforms make divorce a quicker and easier option for couples and has been designed to encourage ‘meaningful’ reflection.

Once the 20 weeks is up, there will then be a minimum wait of six weeks before a final order can be made, so divorcing will potentially now be slower than under the previous system. It’s also no longer possible to contest a divorce, except on limited grounds, including jurisdiction.

It is also interesting to look at divorce trends in the run up to these changes and particularly during the pandemic. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), reveal that divorce rates fell during the year of the first lockdowns, despite widespread predictions that they would rise due to the stresses and strains placed on couples by the pandemic.

The ONS states that in 2020 there were 103,592 divorces granted in England and Wales - a decrease of 4.5per cent on the previous year.

This was despite some legal firms reporting they were experiencing a 40per cent increase in divorce enquiries during the lockdowns, with couples citing financial woes and being stuck in close confinement as reasons for separation. We experienced a 25per cent increase in enquiries during 2020, but not all related to divorce.

One area that we experienced more enquiries about in particular, was in relation to the contact arrangements for children, where parties were already separated, but were unsure how to navigate the confusing and ever-changing rules around lockdown, isolation and bubbles.

Most clients seeking divorce that we have worked with recently, have said that their decision to divorce was impacted by lockdown. Many found that problems in relationships that were probably there all along were brought to the forefront by lockdowns, due to the extra pressure of home schooling, no space from each other and money concerns.

Most clients were still keen to avoid a court battle where possible, which resulted in more mediation work.

The figures from the ONS also revealed a rise of more than 40% in same-sex couples divorces – rising from 822 in 2019 to 1,154 in 2020. Of these, 71per cent were divorces between female couples.

Indeed, the number of same sex divorce cases we are advising on has increased in line with the ONS figure, and we expect to see these numbers continuing to climb as a result of the no-fault divorce law.

* Rachel Spencer Robb is a partner and head of LCF Law’s Family Law team as well as being a qualified mediator and an Accredited Specialist of Resolution.

LCF Law is an award-winning full-service law firm, which operates regionally, nationally and internationally.

With more than 125 people and 22 partners across offices in Leeds, Bradford, Harrogate and Ilkley, LCF Law provides practical advice in a clear and efficient way: