Here’s what the ‘no-fault’ divorce bill means - and how it could change divorce proceedings for couples

In order to start divorce proceedings immediately, it currently stands that one half of the marriage has to allege adultery, unreasonable behaviour or that desertion has occurred (Photo: Shutterstock)

In order to start divorce proceedings immediately, it currently stands that one half of the marriage has to allege adultery, unreasonable behaviour or that desertion has occurred.

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But a bill introducing "no-fault" divorces in England and Wales has been backed by MPs.

Here’s what you need to know.

What would ‘no-fault’ divorces entail?

Under the proposed law, couples will only have to state that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which has been passed by the House of Lords, also removes the possibility of contesting the decision to divorce.

The bill passed its first hurdle in the House of Commons, by 231 votes to 16 against, following a debate, despite some Conservatives expressing opposition.

The bill also introduces a new option, allowing couples to jointly apply for a divorce, with the decision to separate being a mutual one.

It also replaces the terms "decree nisi" and "decree absolute" with "conditional order" and "final order".

The decree nisi is a provisional decree of divorce, which is pronounced when the court is satisfied that a person has met the legal and procedural requirements to obtain a divorce.

The decree absolute is the legal document that ends your marriage.

"Petitioners" will also become "applicants".

‘This bill seeks to make the legal process less painful’

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told MPs: "No-one sets out thinking that their marriage is going to end, no-one wants their marriage to break down, none of us are therefore indifferent when a couple's lifelong commitment has sadly deteriorated.

"It is a very sad circumstance but the law, I believe, should reduce conflict when it arises.

"Where divorce is inevitable, this bill seeks to make the legal process less painful."

However, in a letter to the Telegraph, MPs including Fiona Bruce, Sir Desmond Swayne and Sir John Hayes urged the government to focus on helping couples reconcile instead of "undermining the commitment of marriage".

They said that the bill was badly-timed, arguing that many "otherwise durable" marriages were now under "intense Covid-related strain".

What are the current rules?

Currently, someone wishing to get a divorce without the consent of their spouse must live apart from them for five years.

Fewer than 2 per cent of divorce cases are contested.

‘The law must not create conflict between couples’

Under the proposals, there must be a minimum six-month period between the lodging of a petition to the divorce being made final.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "We will always uphold the institution of marriage. But when divorce cannot be avoided, the law must not create conflict between couples that so often harms the children involved.

"Our reforms remove the needless 'blame game', while ensuring there is a minimum six-month time frame to allow for reflection and the opportunity to turn back."