On the 6th of April 2022 divorce law in England and Wales changed forever. Gone was the necessity to attribute blame for the breakdown of the marriage, and in came a modern no-fault divorce system.

It was the most radical change to divorce law in England and Wales since the civil courts were first able to grant divorces in 1858.

Two years on, we look at the effect of the change.

In particular, we ask four questions: Has no-fault divorce led to more couples getting divorced? How has the new possibility of couples jointly applying for the divorce worked out? Has the removal of fault from divorce led to more couples settling matters relating to children and finances by agreement? And: Has it led to fewer couples getting married?

Opening the floodgates?

A major objection to the introduction of no-fault divorce was that it would make divorce easier and therefore lead to a flood of couples getting divorced rather than trying to save their marriages, and a permanent increase in the divorce rate.

During the legislation process in the Lords, the Bishop of Carlisle voiced a typical concern, stating:

“Reducing divorce to a statement made by one party that the marriage has broken down undermines the seriousness with which marriage and divorce are regarded … What is more, studies suggest that making divorce quicker and easier will significantly increase the already high divorce rate, with all the implications that has both for human misery and financial cost.”

So have these fears materialised?

To answer this we will look at the latest available statistics for the Family Court (the latest divorce statistics are for 2022, and therefore do not cover a full year under the new regime). The statistics cover the quarter October to December 2023, but also include earlier figures.

The statistics show that there were 23,517 divorce and civil partnership dissolution applications in that quarter, which was actually down from the same quarter in the previous year, when the figure was 25,636.

And the figures for 2021, the last full year under the old divorce regime, were actually pretty similar to the figures for 2023.

In short, there seems to be no evidence yet that no-fault divorce has led to more couples getting divorced.

Has joint divorce been a success?

The new system of no-fault divorce introduced for the first time the possibility of a couple jointly applying for the divorce.

It was hoped that a large proportion of divorcing couples would make joint applications, thereby making divorce more amicable.

So how many couples have chosen this route?

The latest Family Court statistics show that in the quarter October to December 2023 25% of divorce applications were made jointly.

This may be rather lower than some had hoped, but it is not an unreasonable ‘return’, and it may yet be that more applications will be made jointly in future, as the possibility becomes more widely known.

Are more couples settling matters by agreement?

One of the biggest arguments in favour of no-fault divorce was that it would reduce animosity between divorcing couples, by removing the need for one party to blame the other for the breakdown of the marriage. This, it was hoped, would lead to more couples settling arrangements for children and finances by agreement, rather than having to go through contested court proceedings.

Has this hope been realised?

Once again we will look to the Family Court statistics for the answer.

As to court applications relating to children, 54,652 were made in 2021, the last full year of the old divorce regime, whereas in 2023 this dropped to 50,789.

But as to financial remedies, there were 12,446 contested applications in 2021, compared to 12,910 in 2023.

So the answer thus far is somewhat inconclusive.

Has no-fault divorce undermined marriage?

Another fear of the opponents of no-fault divorce was that it would undermine the institution of marriage, thereby leading to fewer couples getting married, and more couples choosing simply to cohabit, which it is feared is a less secure form of relationship, particularly for any children.

This comment of Fiona Bruce MP when the new legislation was debated in the House of Commons is typical. She said:

“People will marry less due to the low expectation of permanence in marriage, and they will cohabit more as the distinction between the two is eroded and what marriage really means becomes confused: no longer “till death us do part”, but “until I give you six months’ notice to quit, with no reason given.””

Unfortunately, we will have to wait to see whether Mrs Bruce’s fears will be borne out, as statistics for marriages in England and Wales since April 2022 are not yet available.

The latest published marriage statistics are for 2020, and they showed that the number of marriages that year was the lowest on record since 1838. Marriage appears to already be in decline, and whether no-fault divorce has hastened the decline, only time will tell.

How can we help?

Walker Family Law is an award-winning family law practice, recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law mediationdivorce lawchild-law and arbitration.

Please contact us if you require any further information.

For more information about divorce and separation and how we can help, see this page.

Domestic abuse can obviously be exacerbated by the fact that the parties are both still living in the same home. The law therefore enables the court to make an order regulating who may live in the family home. This is called an ‘occupation order’.

In most situations a victim of abuse can apply to the court for an occupation order, but just what can an occupation order do, and how will the court decide whether to make one?

What an occupation order can do

Exactly what an occupation order can do will depend upon the circumstances of the case, such as whether the parties are married, and whether the home is owned or rented.

However, whatever the circumstances there are basically four things that an occupation order can do:

1. Require the other party to allow the applicant back into the property, or part of the property. Obviously, this can be used where the applicant has been forced to leave the property due to the other party’s abuse.

2. Regulate the occupation of the property by either or both of the parties, for example by stating which parts of the property each party may occupy, where the accommodation at the property is such as to allow the parties to live separately within it.

3. Require the respondent to leave the property, or part of the property. The order may specify that the respondent can return to the property for certain defined purposes, such as collecting and returning children for contact.

4. Exclude the respondent from a defined area around the property.

The order may also prohibit the other party from obstructing or interfering with the applicant’s occupation of the property.

In addition it may include provisions for such things as who should maintain the property, who should pay the mortgage/rent/other outgoings, who can keep and use the furniture, and so on.

Exceptionally, an occupation order can be made without giving notice to the other party. However, the court will fix a hearing date and the other party can oppose the continuation of the order at that hearing.

Lastly, the order will state how long it is to last. Exactly how long it can last will depend upon the circumstances of the case.

How will the court decide whether to make an occupation order?

The specific factors that the court is required to take into account before deciding whether to make an occupation order will again depend upon the circumstances of the case.

However, in general the court will consider all of the circumstances of the case, and in particular:

1. The housing needs and resources of both of the parties and any children. Clearly, for example, a party looking after children will have greater housing needs than a party not looking after children.

2. The financial resources of both parties – one of the parties may, for example, be in a much better position financially to rehouse themselves.

3. The likely effect any order, or not making an order, will have on the parties and any children. If, for example, the other party has nowhere else to live, then obviously making an occupation order requiring them to leave the home and therefore making them homeless will be a far more serious matter. On the other hand, if the court considers that the victim and any children may suffer harm by the other party remaining in the property then it will be more likely to order the other party to leave.

4. The conduct of the parties in relation to each other. Obviously, the more serious the abuse by the other party, the more likely it is that the court will order them to leave the home.

How can we help?

If you are the victim of domestic abuse you should seek expert legal advice as soon as possible. We can provide you with that advice.

For more information about our domestic abuse services, and how to get in touch, see this page.

Care proceedings are an extremely daunting prospect for any parent to face. It is therefore important that they understand the court process involved.

Care proceedings will be commenced when the local authority is concerned that a child in its area has suffered, or is at risk of suffering, significant harm attributable to either the care given to the child, or likely to be given to them, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give them, or to the child being beyond parental control.

Care proceedings are a last resort, pursued only after exhausting efforts to keep the child with their birth family.

A pre-proceedings meeting will usually take place as a final attempt to prevent the matter going to court. Parents will receive a letter from the council before the meeting, outlining concerns and inviting attendance. The council will clearly communicate parental expectations regarding their child. Failure to meet these may lead to care proceedings

Once the proceedings have been issued the exact procedure will vary from case to case, depending upon the circumstances. However, the basic procedure takes place in three stages: the Case Management Hearing, the Issues Resolution Hearing, and the Final Hearing.

Stage 1: The Case Management Hearing

The Case Management Hearing is usually the first hearing that takes place, fixed when the proceedings are issued. The hearing is typically brief, with the court providing directions for the next steps.

In order to decide what should happen next the court will review the council’s application and its plans for the child (set out in a ‘care plan’), identify the main issues in the case, and what evidence will be required to enable the court to resolve those issues.

Evidence will comprise written statements from parents expressing their views and any necessary expert reports filed. The court may also want other family members to be assessed as potential carers for the child.

A timetable for that evidence, and for next stages in the case, will then be set by the court. The court will usually want the case to be completed within 26 weeks, although this deadline can be extended.

Stage 2: The Issues Resolution Hearing

The purpose of the Issues Resolution Hearing is to see whether everyone involved is able to agree upon long-term plans for the child, including where the child should live and what contact anyone should have with them.

If agreement is reached, then this might be the final hearing.

If no agreement can be reached, the hearing identifies and narrows issues for the Final Hearing. The court will also fix a date for the Final Hearing.

Stage 3: The Final Hearing

At the final hearing, which will usually take place over several days, the court will hear (or read) all of the evidence, and make its final decisions.

The decisions that the court will make will be about the long-term care arrangements for the child, what contact the child should have with anyone, such as parents or other family members, and what orders, if any, are needed to put those arrangements in place.

The orders that the court can make include: a care order placing the child in the care of the local authority; a supervision order placing the child under the supervision of the local authority (the child will usually remain with the family); a special guardianship order placing the child with someone other than their parents; and a placement order authorising the local authority to place the child for adoption.

How can we help?

Please contact us if you require any further information.

For more information about care proceedings and how we can help, see this page.

Walker Family Law marks a decade of transformative legal services with a fresh identity

Walker Family Law, a prominent family law firm in the Southwest, is thrilled to announce its rebrand, coinciding with the celebration of being in business for 10 years.

This rebrand reflects not only the firm’s commitment to innovation but also underscores its remarkable journey of providing innovative legal services to families navigating life-changing challenges.

Over the past decade, Walker Family Law – formerly Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation Solicitors – has been a trusted legal partner, offering expert guidance and support in divorce and separation, unmarried couples, children arrangements, domestic abuse, international child abduction, children and social services, and a spectrum of family law services. During this time, the firm has not only built a strong reputation but has also established a legacy of making a meaningful difference in the lives of families.

As part of the rebrand, Walker Family Law has introduced its new name, logo and website, all of which encapsulate the firms ethos: Resolution at Heart. This represents a significant milestone in the firm’s history, symbolising its ongoing dedication to providing compassionate, pioneering, and effective legal solutions.

With deep roots in the Southwest, the company opted to keep the rebranding local, enlisting the expertise of award-winning Exeter-based digital marketing agency, Optix Solutions to craft a fresh visual identity, website, and aligned digital marketing strategy

The official launch of Walker Family Law took place on November 8 at Exeter Golf and Country Club. The event brought together a diverse group of professionals, clients and partners who have played a pivotal role in the firm’s success over the past decade.

Kirsten Clarke, Business Development Manager at Walker Family Law, expressed her excitement about the rebrand. “Our journey has been marked by our clients’ stories and their trust in us during their most difficult times. This rebrand represents our unwavering dedication to making a real difference, with the core values of our firm at its heart.”

Walker Family Law’s 10th anniversary celebration and rebranding underscores an impressive period of growth and provision of impactful family law services. “The story is not just about a name change; it is about reaffirming our commitment to going above and beyond for our clients.”

For media enquiries, or further information, please contact:

Kirsten Clarke

Business Development Manager

Email: kirstenclarke@walkerfamilylaw.co.uk

01392 248113

Walker Family Law are a progressive family law firm based in Devon, with leading divorce and children solicitors and dispute resolution specialists. With a 10 year legacy of excellence, the firm is dedicated to putting Resolution at Heart and assist clients with divorce and separation, finance, pre-nuptial agreements, cohabitation, child arrangements and social service cases as well as adoption, LGBT + Family Law, Family Mediation and Civil Mediation, Arbitration and Collaborative Family Law.

Their main offices are based in Exeter and they have satellite offices based across the Southwest. Walker Family Law are one of the largest and most experienced family law practices in the Southwest.