Divorce applications ‘highest for decade’ as no-fault law change brought in

Divorce applications have reached their highest level for a decade as no-fault legislation was introduced in England and Wales, figures show.

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

On April 6, new legislation came into effect enabling couples to go through proceedings without apportioning blame, with a statement of irretrievable breakdown, made either individually or together, seen as “conclusive evidence”.

The change 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 – more than a decade ago – and is up 22% from the same period in 2021.

Of the applications between April and June, the vast majority (33,234) were made under the new law.

More than three-quarters (78%) of these applications were by sole applicants.

Under the old divorce law, there were 19,758 decree absolutes (final orders) granted in April to June, down 35% from the same quarter in 2021.

For those divorcing under the old law, there was a rise in the average time of proceedings.

The average time from date of petition to receive a decree nisi (conditional order) was 36 weeks, up 12 weeks from the same period in 2021.

And the average period from date of petition to decree absolute was 56 weeks, up seven weeks from the equivalent quarter in 2021.

The MoJ said the increased time frames have been impacted by resourcing issues which have led to backlogs.

It said it will not be commenting on the timeliness of new divorce cases until there have been substantial numbers of conditional and final orders, due to the new mandatory waiting periods.