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October 4, 2022

No-fault divorce has triggered a wave of enquiries for top family lawyers

By Rory Sachs

Divorce applications are at their highest level in a decade following the introduction of new legislation — although cases may fall after pent-up demand eases, according to experts

Following April’s introduction of ‘no-fault’ divorces in England and Wales, applications for divorce have reached their highest levels in a decade, new figures from the Ministry of Justice have shown. 

With 33,566 applications submitted between April and June — the vast majority under the new no-fault guidelines or made by sole applicants — the figures were 22 per cent higher than the number registered over the same period in 2021, and the highest number registered since the first quarter of 2012.

According to Stowe Family Law, one of the largest family law firms in the UK, enquiries for the firm’s services hit an all time high in September, up 35 per cent from September 2021.

Deborah Jeff, head of family law at Simkins, told Spear’s that it is ‘unsurprising that divorce applications have soared since the new no-fault divorce became law almost six months ago.’

‘Many clients were holding back initiating proceedings until the new law came into force, rather than starting proceedings on more contentious grounds such as the other party’s adultery or unreasonable behaviour.’ 

Jeff noted that the figures are likely to fall in the following months as ‘this rush of proceedings levels out and reduces to numbers similar to those seen previously.’

Meanwhile, Forsters partner Simon Blain cautioned against reading too much into the wave of divorce applications between April and June.  

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‘It is always dangerous to extrapolate from a single quarter’s statistics,’ Blain said. ‘Increased digitalisation has led to significant changes in the way courts manage family law cases, which will have an impact on the data collected. The courts continue to work through significant backlogs following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.’

Blain said that it was likely the record figures were ‘a combination of a return to normal following the pandemic and well-publicised and popular new legislation [which] meant that people waited… before commencing divorce proceedings.’ 

He expects that following the pent-up demand after the legislative change on 6 April, divorce applications should return to previous levels over the next few quarters.

Seddons partner Neil Russell, who heads the firm’s family law team, said it ‘must be taken into account that a number of people clearly waited in the first quarter of 2022 to be able to proceed with no-fault divorce, so this may explain the surge.’

The figures for January to March were down 2 per cent on the equivalent quarter in 2021. With the precarious situation in the economy right now and the bottleneck in the first quarter of the year, I think we need to wait longer before concluding there is a steep upward trend in divorce,’ he added.

Russell noted that the rise in applications chimed with a 31 per cent fall in the number of financial remedy cases — possibly the ‘result of more people opting for alternative dispute resolution, including mediation, arbitration and private Financial Dispute Resolution Appointments’.

More from Spear’s

The 2022 Spear’s Family Law Survey reveals the trends shaping divorce

The spiralling cost of HNW divorce

The best family lawyers for high-net-worth clients

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