Author: Merrick Solicitors

Divorce applications highest in a decade

Divorce applications reached their highest level in a decade in the first period after the introduction of ‘no-fault’ legislation.

Divorce laws were overhauled for the first time in 50 years on April 6. This enables married couples to divorce without needing to apportion blame for the breakdown.

The latest figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) reveal there were 33,566 divorce applications in the three months April to June.

The number of applications was the highest since the first quarter of 2012 and an increase of 22% from the same period last year. Figures in the previous quarter compared to January – March in 2021 had fallen slightly. This suggests people were holding off divorcing until the new legislation came into effect.

The vast majority of the April-June applications (33,234) were made under the new law.

Joint applications for divorce

The law change is designed to help separating couples look to the future and focus on key practical decisions involving children or their finances.

The legislation also allows separating couples to file a joint application for divorce. 78% of the applications were from sole applicants and 22% from joint applicants, including those for the dissolution of civil partnership.

The MoJ data also shows there was a rise in the average length of proceedings for those divorcing under the old law,

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

And the average period from petition date to decree absolute (final order) was 56 weeks, up seven weeks from the same quarter in 2021.

Under the new law there’s a minimum 20 weeks between the start of proceedings and application for a conditional order. This provides a meaningful period of reflection and the chance to reconsider. Couples then have to wait a further six weeks before applying for a final order.

→ No fault divorce law – what’s changed?

Divorce advice from consumer champion

A new survey claims almost three quarters of those questioned after divorce hadn’t included one of the major financial assets in their settlement.

UK courts have allowed pension sharing orders since 2000. However, despite this, the survey found 7 in 10 of those divorced had not included pensions in their financial settlements.

Of the 948 Which? members surveyed in May who had divorced since the law changed, 71% hadn’t done so. The consumer champion said leaving pensions out can lead to unequal settlements as married women tend to have smaller pensions.

This is because women are still more likely to spend time away from the workplace looking after children. They also generally have lower earnings because of part-time, lower paid work.

Research by the University of Manchester and the Pensions Policy Institute found the average married woman aged 64-69 has accrued £28,000 in private pension savings, compared with £260,000 for men.

Which? said it was concerned some couples were potentially ignoring one of the biggest assets in their marriage. Pensions are generally considered to be the second largest financial asset in most couple’s relationship, after property.

Jenny Ross, Which? Money editor, said: “Wherever possible, we encourage people to seek legal and financial advice when embarking on divorce proceedings, in order to ensure they are equipped to make the best financial decisions for the future.”

The full article can be read here.

We’ve previously shared advice about Four financial areas you must give attention in divorce.

Student Maisy Buchanan spent the week on work experience with us and wrote this fabulous review. Thanks Maisy and good luck with your studying.

In June, I spent the week at Merrick Solicitors as part of my Year 12 work experience. I thoroughly enjoyed it and on a personal level was introduced to many great people who made me want to pursue my ambition with law even further.

The experience has really opened my eyes to the hard work and determination that is paired with being a lawyer;  furthering my knowledge about law but also pushing me to pursue my dreams of becoming part of the Bar.

Throughout my experience, I learned about client/solicitor relationships involving confidentiality and discovered the legal challenges for those who are pursuing a divorce, whether it involves children or finances. By familiarising myself with case progression in Family Law, I have managed to grasp and understand key terminology and abbreviations.


My understanding was aided by the helpful solicitors at Merrick, who were always up for answering and explaining any issues or questions I could not quite comprehend, and also helping with my educational studies. Keira supplied great answers for my EPQ which I’m currently completing on capital punishment.

Overall, I not only received a vast amount of knowledge on Family Law, which I hope to carry on with me to university next year, but also an understanding of the way in which a well organised and welcoming law firm runs and what it feels like to work in this perfect environment.

I have really enjoyed my time and the positive attributes I have received and can only thank those who have made my week of work experience one which I will remember. I have gained so much and it has solidified my ambition of joining the bar or even being involved in law in another role.

Thank you all so much and especially to Amanda and Heather who allowed me to shadow their work and I look forward to the possibility of working alongside them in the future.

Maisy Buchanan

Merrick helpline staying open during cost of living crisis

Since early in the pandemic, Merrick has run a free helpline offering legal advice on divorce, domestic abuse, separation, children and other relationship issues.

While, thankfully, many aspects of daily life now look a lot more normal, the pressure on families has unfortunately not gone away.

The threat of Covid-19 may have lessened. However, the current cost of living crisis is another major concern that is impacting families across the UK.

Few are immune from the stress that soaring inflation, energy and food prices are causing. Those pressures can impact on relationships as well, placing a further strain on couples.

That’s why we’ve decided to keep our helpline open. We want to ensure we’re able to offer a helping hand to those that need it. We’re available on freephone 0800 285 1413 seven days a week, 8am to 8pm.

As well as offering initial legal advice, we can often signpost to other ways of getting support.

We’ve also put together this list of just some of the places you can get help online with financial issues.

Online help

Debt charity Step Change has useful advice on its web pages and also handy links to the range of government support that has been made available. Through the same page, visitors can access Step Change’s free debt advice either through online tools or by talking to an advisor.

If you’re in debt to your energy supplier, you might be able to get a grant to help pay it off. The Citizens Advice site has a list of energy suppliers offering grants to their customers:

One of the most passionate advocates for the Government to do more to help out families struggling to meet their rising costs, is TV Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis.

As you might expect, his website includes a myriad of good advice from how to check whether you’re actually receiving all the benefits to which you are entitled to saving money by using your microwave rather than your oven.

Tried everything on his list? Then sign up for his weekly email which delivers fresh advice on ways to save.

Single parents 

Single parent charity Gingerbread points out that while coupled parents can share the financial burden of parenting, single parents do not have the same flexibility.

As a result, many single parents are taking on multiple jobs to make ends meet. Evidence shows that, due to childcare costs, working more hours often actually increases the risk of falling into problem debt.

Gingerbread has lots of user-friendly advice on all sorts of issues affecting single parents. This includes stretching the family budget and ensuring you are getting the necessary support.

Financial strain leaves many feeling anxious and fearful – and that can put pressure on relationships.

We often tiptoe around conversations to do with money and what support people can seek when they need it. Relate, the relationship people, have some suggestions on how to open up what may be a difficult conversation with family or friends about your finances.

Relate’s advice is to ‘feel proud of yourself for even thinking about having a conversation with others in your life. It’s a big step’.


→ We previously published this list of helplines.




Solicitor Molly back with the team at Merrick

Solicitor Molly Souter has returned to Merrick – the firm where she first got a taste for family law.

Molly re-joined the team late last year and is enjoying using the experience she has gained to help clients make a fresh start.

Molly said: “What I have always liked about Merrick is they do things differently. We have that personal touch; it’s more than just having a call with a client and advising them.

“We’ll find out how they are. I like the caring side of it, making sure they are OK emotionally. The easier we can make it, the better for the client.”

Merrick solicitor Molly Souter

Molly was on placement with Merrick in 2016 after graduation, she then went on to study her LPC (Legal Practice Course), completed her training and gained experience elsewhere in the North West.

Molly said: “I always preferred the personal side rather than corporate or commercial law

“When I came to Merrick, I realised just how much impact divorce has on people. Because it’s such a real problem in people’s lives and ends up happening to a lot of families, it’s always an ongoing issue.”

Unique service offers

The Merrick team is continuing to roll out its unique offer of three service levels – Prestige, Benchmark and AccessUs.

Molly said this was another point of difference to many other firms.

She said: “We provide different service levels based on a client’s financial circumstances. Access Us is like a Legal Aid rate (which isn’t available for most cases of divorce) and enables us to help people where money is tight.

“That’s not something I’ve seen other firms do. We are also much more engaged with things like lifestyle and life after a divorce with our well-being and advice platform, Merrick Life. It’s looking to help the person through it all.

“That’s what appeals, and what makes Merrick stand out for me.

“For some clients we are the only people they can talk to. They do feel very isolated, and we become one of the few people they can trust. This includes seeking advice on life post-separation and Merrick is very well-placed to help clients in this way, too.”

Principal Amanda Merrick said: “We’re delighted that Molly is back and a fully-fledged member of the Merrick team.

“She is making a real difference in helping our clients. Molly understands what an impact divorce has on all aspects of people’s lives and is very keen to use her knowledge and training to do her best for every client.”

→ Meet more of the Merrick team.




‘No fault’ divorce law: What’s changed?           

‘No fault’ divorce comes into effect today and is being hailed as the biggest shift in the divorce law in half a century.

But what exactly has changed and how will the experience differ for separating partners?

This development ends the requirement for the divorcing partner to prove their marriage has broken down based on one of five facts – adultery, behaviour, two years separation (with their spouse’s consent), five years separation (without consent) and desertion.

Instead, only a statement of irretrievable breakdown will be needed.

It’s this change, removing the need for one party to be ‘blamed’ for the marriage break down, that has brought forward the term ‘no fault’ divorce.

Campaigners hope that taking blame out of the legal process will also remove some of the acrimony and conflict and shift the focus away from what went wrong, to what’s needed for the future.

Six months to final order

The new process will take six months before the separating couple can obtain a final divorce order. There’s a minimum 20 weeks between the start of proceedings and application for a conditional order. This provides couples with a meaningful period of reflection and the chance to reconsider. They then will have to wait a further six weeks before applying for a final order.

Another change the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 brings is more modern terminology. The person applying for the divorce will be called the applicant, instead of the petitioner. The decree nisi becomes the conditional order and the decree absolute will be the final order.

It will no longer be possible to contest a divorce, except on very limited grounds (such as whether the court has jurisdiction to conduct the proceedings).

Also under the April 6 change, both parties can jointly file for divorce, rather than solely one partner.

The new law is anticipated to remove some of the negativity and blame associated with divorce. However, it cannot take away the often tricky process of agreeing a divorce settlement between partners. The separating couple will still need to decide how to divide assets like the family home, savings and pensions. And, of course, making parenting arrangements for any children.

The new system is a change for everyone. Our advice remains that anyone thinking about ending their marriage should educate themselves about all potential possibilities, hurdles and outcomes. Seeking legal guidance at the earliest opportunity puts you in the strongest position to make those educated decisions.

→ Read more about ‘how we can help’.



Not reading too much into divorce rate drop

Commentators and newspaper columnists have done their best to divine insight from the recently announced drop in divorce figures.

The truth is that, while the numbers are interesting, reading any long-term trends into them is much harder.

In 2020, there were 103,592 divorces granted in England and Wales, a decrease of 4.5% compared with 2019. That fall seems to have surprised many who thought that the many stresses of the pandemic, including that first lockdown in March and the months of uncertainty that followed, would drive up the numbers.

The reality is most relationships finished off by Covid would have struggled to reach a decree absolute by the end of that year. The ‘average’ divorce takes something like four to six months and the courts themselves were hit by restrictions and lockdown.

Only after we’ve seen the picture for the succeeding years may we gain a clearer understanding of what impact Covid has had on couples taking action to end their relationships. Even then there will be other factors that have to be taken into consideration.

The numbers released by the Office for National Statistics for 2020 included:
  • The majority of divorces were among opposite-sex couples, 98.9%.
  • There were 1,154 divorces among same-sex couples, increasing by 40.4% from 2019; of these, the majority continued to be accounted for by female same-sex divorces 71.3%.
  • Unreasonable behaviour was the most common reason for wives petitioning for divorce among opposite-sex couples, accounting for 47.4% of petitions.
  • For husbands, the most common reason for divorces was a two-year separation. This accounted for 34.7% of divorces followed by 33.8% for unreasonable behaviour.
  • For same-sex divorces, unreasonable behaviour was the most common reason for divorce in 2020 for both female and male couples. Unreasonable behaviour accounted for 55.2% of female divorces and 57.0% of male divorces.
  • The average (median) duration of marriage was 11.9 years for opposite-sex couples, a decrease from 12.4 years in 2019.
  • For same-sex divorces in 2020, the average (median) duration of marriage was 4.7 years for female couples and 5.4 years for male couples. (Divorce among same-sex couples has only been possible since 2015 following the introduction of same-sex marriages in March 2014.)
No fault divorce

Currently in England and Wales, those wishing to divorce need to prove the marriage has broken down and cannot be saved. This can be on the grounds of adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, separation for two years (with partner’s consent to divorce) or separation for five years (without partner’s consent).

That’s all set to change from April 6, when so-called no-fault divorce is introduced. This will allow the dissolution of a marriage without the need to show wrongdoing by either party.

(Commentators have also surmised this may have played a part in 2020’s divorce rate drop. Separating couples who did not want to have to prove fault may have waited for the legislation to come in. It had been set for introduction in autumn 2021 but was delayed.)

We wait to see how exactly the new system works. Our advice would always be to seek professional legal advice at the earliest opportunity if thinking about divorce or separation.

It is always important to be aware of all the options and implications. That way informed decisions can be taken about important matters such as family, finances and relationships.

What is family mediation?

For divorcing couples, family mediation can help sort out disputes without the need to go to court.

Mediation is a more informal way to resolve the conflicts and issues that can arise in divorce. The process is less stressful and quicker than going to court and therefore can also save money.

An independent, professionally trained mediator helps separating couples work out arrangements for children and finances following separation. Crucially these arrangements have to be acceptable to both parties.

Most arrangements need some give and take on both sides. Even so an agreed outcome is almost always preferable to the imposition of a solution by a judge.

Registered mediators can provide general legal information, but they cannot provide legal advice for your situation. For example, they can tell you what the law states about financial settlements on divorce in general, but they cannot apply that to your particular circumstances.

We recommend that legal advice is still taken as it can turn the written agreement into a legally binding document. You can consult your family law solicitor at any point in the process. Often it is best to do this both during the process and on any proposals that are agreed.

Family mediation vouchers

We’ve worked with many excellent mediators over the years, though it’s important to stress that every divorce is distinctive and not all are suitable for this approach.

Mediation is in the news right now as the Government has put funding in to support more divorce cases being resolved in this way.

Since being launched last March, separating couples have used 4,400 £500 Government vouchers to help fund their mediation.

This week the Government announced an extra £1.27 million is being invested in the scheme. That’s after research found  77 per cent of cases reached full or partial agreements away from the family courts.

Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab, said: “I want to see children and their parents spared the stress and conflict of the courtroom as much as possible, and I’m delighted that thousands more will now have the opportunity to resolve their disputes in a less combative way.

“At the same time, it will free up vital capacity in the family courts to ensure the system can recover quickly from the pandemic.”

Want to know more and to see whether mediation is suitable for you? Call our free phoneline on 0800 285 1413 or email

→ We spoke with mediator Maura McKibbin previously about helping separated parents make new plans for holiday periods.