What is the difference between a No-Fault Divorce and Disputed Divorce?

In April 2022, the no-fault divorce was introduced into English and Welsh law. Almost two years on, it has become a well-used method of dissolving a marriage or civil partnership. Divorce is an emotionally charged time, no matter who takes the first step, or for whatever reason. However, being able to set the wheels in motion without having to prove an irreconcilable reason for the split has made things easier for many separating couples. Often, a no-fault divorce can be finalised far faster and with less emotional fallout than a disputed divorce.

The difference between a No-fault and Disputed Divorce

The main difference between a no-fault and disputed divorce is that in the former case, there is no blame officially apportioned to either party. It is simply accepted that the marriage, or union has not worked and needs to be brought to an end. The court will not spend time deciding who caused the split, as it would for a disputed divorce. This can help make things run more smoothly, as well as make things easier for any children involved.

How does a No-Fault Divorce work?

Unlike a disputed divorce, no-fault divorces are set in motion by both partners agreeing that their union has irretrievably broken down. If the court agrees, the divorce is granted and the couple allowed to go their separate ways. There is normally less conflict than in a disputed divorce. However, there will still be issues around child custody, education, finances, sharing property and assets etc. that will need to be sorted out.

The court can often help with this, by formalising decisions made and laying out the terms of any agreements come to. Choosing no-fault over disputed divorce can not only lower resentment or anger levels, but help keep the overall costs down too. This is because as the time and expertise needed for negotiations and agreeing financial settlements may well be much reduced if there is less conflict and emotion involved.

No-Fault Divorce or Disputed Divorce?

Despite the no-fault divorce remaining a ‘popular’ option since its introduction in April 2022, there are still several circumstances when a disputed divorce is the more appropriate route to take. Officially documenting the ‘fault’ or reason why a marriage or civil partnership has broken down can be helpful for informing decisions around future access to children or division of assets.

For example, a marriage that ended due to infidelity or unreasonable behaviour will have very different emotions and repercussions behind it than one that has simply ‘run its course’. Issues around contact with children and whether mediation is appropriate will need to be decided differently with this type of conflict and behaviour in the mix. Then, there are different types of disputed divorce for cases involving desertion or lengthy separation.

How to apply for a No-Fault Divorce

As a starting point, the couple must have been married or in a civil partnership for one year before they can apply for a no-fault or disputed divorce. Each party is advised to find a suitable family lawyer with experience in no-fault and/or disputed divorce. One or both parties will submit he divorce petition, stating in it that they are seeking a no-fault divorce. This is normally done online. If no-one disputes the divorce petition (this is normally very difficult to do in a no-fault divorce), it will move to the next stage, following a period of reflection to allow time for the parties to reconsider their decision if they wish to.

A provisional, or conditional order (formerly ‘decree nisi’) is then granted, followed by the final order (previously ‘decree absolute’). At this final stage, both parties are free to remarry or enter into another civil partnership, should they wish. This is the case with both no-fault and disputed divorce proceedings.

How can family lawyers help with a No-Fault Divorce?

No-fault divorce can often seem to be more straightforward than a disputed divorce, largely because there is less conflict involved. On party does not have to take the lead, nor come up with a list of potentially contentious reasons why they wish to part company. However, those undergoing a no-fault formal separation will benefit from professional legal advice as much as a disputed divorce.

Issues around child custody, division of property, financial settlements and ongoing payments, etc. can all become complicated and distressing if not handled correctly. However amicable a no-fault divorce might be, the finer details can be harder to work out, and emotions will still doubtless run high at times. Professional, objective support will be just as valuable for a no-fault separation as it is for a disputed divorce.

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