Houses of Parliament at night.

United Kingdom Debating No-Fault Divorce

Better late than never? This is one of those “I can’t believe they don’t already have it” situations. A no-fault divorce bill is set for debate in the House of Commons this month that could radically change the way couples get divorced according to BBC. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill has already survived one hurdle and was passed by the House of Lords. The British government calls this proposal “the biggest shake-up of divorce laws in half a century.”

Some of the proposed changes include that divorces can be granted in just six months (Colorado is 91 days) and spouses would be able to claim an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage as the sole grounds for wanting to obtain a divorce. This bill also removes the ability to contest a divorce, other than on technical legal grounds such as jurisdiction, procedure, or validity of marriage.

Proponents of this reform argue that the current system is too entrenched in the idea of marital fault and that is hurting families according to reporting by the Independent. Currently, the law promotes animosity between spouses because fault must be apportioned unless the parties wish to separate for two years for a mutual divorce or five years before they can be divorced over objection.

This five year requirement can trap a spouse in an abusive marriage – something noted by the UK’s Ministry of Justice, because spouses who do not want to wait for a divorce will play the “blame game” trying to meet one of the fault-based grounds for divorce like unreasonable behavior or adultery.

No-Fault Divorce Increases Dissolution Rates?

While reporting suggests that this bill could be passed by the end of July, it is not without its critics. Some argue that making divorce easier to get will lead to a spike in divorce rates in the UK. 

In 2018, the divorce rate in the UK was 7.5 per 1,000 married couples in England and Wales. Compare that rate to Colorado’s 2018 divorce rate of 13.52 per 1,000 married couples. Even with a spike in divorce rates, it’s not likely that the UK will catch up with Colorado.

No-Fault Divorce Around the World

One of the first modern no-fault divorce laws was issued in 1917 in Soviet Russia, following the Russian Revolution. We’ve previously discussed the recent steps taken by Russia to freeze divorce cases during the pandemic which makes this fact all the more astonishing.

Sweden has had no-fault divorce since 1973, and Germany followed suit shortly thereafter in 1976. Australia adopted a no-fault system in 1975. It’s worth noting that, while many countries have adopted a no-fault system, many countries still allow fault based divorces to take place or may still have specific requirements before a no-fault divorce can be pursued.

Today, all states recognize some form of no-fault divorce, though the actual requirements may vary. Ronald Reagan signed the first no-fault divorce bill in the United States while governor of California in 1969, and by 2010, all states had followed suit. Colorado has had some form of no-fault divorce since the ‘70’s.

Colorado’s No-Fault Divorce

Under C.R.S. 14-10-106, the only grounds for divorce in Colorado is that the marriage is irretrievably broken – it only takes one spouse to assert that under oath. The Court can and will issue a divorce decree over the objection of one spouse once the family law judge makes findings that the marriage is broken, pursuant to C.R.S. 14-10-110. So long as one spouse wants a divorce, they will get one. (Note – as we discuss in this blog post, the irretrievably broken finding is also required for a legal separation).

No-fault divorce

Not only is there no requirement in Colorado to prove any sort of fault or wrongdoing (hence the name no-fault), but because it’s almost never relevant, the court will normally not allow any showings of fault in a hearing (limited exceptions in child custody cases where the “fault” also makes the spouse a bad parent). Judges want to keep the case as clean as possible, as well as not wasting precious time on the docket with needless finger-pointing. This concept is sometimes difficult for aggrieved spouses to accept as they often want to prove that the other spouse is a “bad person” or caused the divorce.

Given that Colorado is purely no-fault (meaning there are no other grounds for divorce), martial fault or misconduct like adultery will not factor into the Court’s decision on dividing the marital estate. The judge will not use property division as a weapon to compensate one spouse for the wrongdoing of the other spouse during the marriage. If one spouse has wasted marital assets after the case is filed, the Court can offset those wasted assets during the division of the marital estate.

Similarly, the Court will not use child custody or decision making to punish or reward one party. Misconduct can affect child custody decisions however. If one party acts in a way that could negatively impact the health and welfare of a child, the court will take that into consideration and make decisions accordingly – not to punish a parent but rather to act in the best interest of the child.

For more information on no-fault divorces, see our Requirements for a Divorce in Colorado article at the Family Law Guide.

FAQ – No-Fault Divorce In Colorado

What is a no-fault divorce?

A no-fault divorce is one where the court will grant the spouses a dissolution of marriage based upon an irretrievable breakdown, without either spouse having to prove grounds for divorce such as adultery, cruelty or abandonment.

Can I prove fault at a divorce hearing in Colorado?

No. Because Colorado is a no-fault divorce state, fault-based grounds are irrelevant to a divorce, and therefore inadmissible, with limited exception, such as when parenting is involved and one spouse is abusive or an alcoholic.

Is adultery relevant in a Colorado divorce?

No – because Colorado is a no-fault divorce state, and adultery has no bearing on whether a spouse is a good parent, the court will not allow evidence of infidelity, with the limited exception of when one spouse has dissipated marital funds by spending them on a girlfriend/boyfriend.

Award-Winning Colorado Divorce Counsel

No-Fault Divorce

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