No-fault divorce – England and Wales catch up with France

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On 6 April 2022 English divorce law became no-fault. There will be only one basis of divorce – that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.  Parties have to bring no evidence whatsoever to prove that. Divorces will take 6 months, as a fixed minimum period. Paper divorces are a thing of the past in 99% of cases. Everything is now online through the Court Service.

 

First change in 50 years

The previous reform of English divorce procedure took place as long ago as 1973. The law has remained fault based since then, if you want to get divorced sooner than 2 years. In 1996 Parliament passed a law change including no-fault divorce but never enacted it. So this change is almost 25 years overdue.

 

The new law will lower the temperature. The old allegations of “adultery” or “unreasonable behaviour” can no longer be made.

 

The law change has come in with barely any comment except that it is long overdue. Society has moved on. Above all, people want a divorce that is as dignified as possible without the blame game.

 

French law on divorce

In France, no fault divorce has been available since 1975 (it was also allowed from 1792 to 1816). However unlike England and Wales it remains possible to allege fault in a divorce if a party chooses. While few spouses do that, in some cases they make the allegations anyway to try and increase the financial award in their favour. French law allows this.

 

France has in other areas gone further than England in terms of divorce procedure. For instance, many divorces now take place outside of the court process altogether (i.e. divorce par consentement mutuel extrajudiciare). In a consensual case, parties may reach an agreement on all financial and children issues. The spouses sign it and the lawyers and file it with the notary’s office.

 

Despite Brexit law changes it remains vital to take early legal advice in international situations to secure the right divorce jurisdiction as soon as possible ahead of the other spouse. This choice can make a huge financial difference.  That is because divorce laws in each country divide assets in very different ways.

 

William Healing and Océane Hamayon Lesné