Divorce applications reach decade high following introduction of no-fault law in England and Wales

Some 33,566 divorce applications were filed between April and June. Credit: PA

Divorce applications have reached their highest level for a decade, following the introduction of no-fault legislation in England and Wales.

Between April and June there were 33,566 divorce applications, with the majority filed under the new legislation and from sole applicants, according to data from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

On April 6, a change to the law enabled couples to go through proceedings without apportioning blame, with a statement of irretrievable breakdown, made either individually or together, seen as “conclusive evidence”.

The legislation also introduced a new minimum period of 20 weeks, for “meaningful” reflection, between starting proceedings and applying for a conditional order.

It is the first time the impact of the law change has been seen in the quarterly MoJ family court statistics.

They show that the number of divorce applications, between April and June, rose to the highest level since the first quarter of 2012 and is up 22% from the same period in 2021.

Of the applications submitted the vast majority (33,234) were made under the new law, while more than three-quarters (78%) were filed by sole applicants.

In comparison, there were 19,758 decree absolutes (final orders) granted under the previous divorce legislation, between April and June - down 35% from the same quarter in 2021.

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“Time will tell whether the increase is sustained, which would suggest that, as some feared, a simplified, online, divorce procedure will lead to higher levels of divorce," said Simon Blain, a partner at Forsters LLP.

“Much more likely is that a combination of a return to normal following the pandemic and well-publicised and popular new legislation meant that people waited for the new legislation before commencing divorce proceedings, leading to a spike as this pent-up demand was released after 6 April.

“If that premise is correct, one would expect to see levels of new divorce applications returning to normal over the next two to three quarters.”

The Marriage Foundation called the rise “a short-term blip that almost certainly reflects a backlog of anticipation of these new laws”.

Meanwhile, some legal experts have suggested couples may put the brakes on their divorces, due to the rising cost-of-living.

But others believe financial stress, as a “critical trigger point”, could result in the upward trend continuing.

Osbornes Law family law partner, Joanne Wescott, said: “While financial tensions are a major source of conflict in relationships, splitting into two households will inevitably be more expensive for all concerned, with increased mortgage and rental costs and higher bills.

“Many fear they have too much to lose and will decide against getting divorced, at least for now.”