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Foretelling the future of family law

It was quite a gamble to write about the Wedding Entrance Dance between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats before it had happened! At the time, nobody knew whether or not the parties’ negotiations would come off.

Last month I also wrote about one reason why I think divorce rates are falling: because a marriage is likely to be more successful when traditional roles and chores are no longer “reserved” for either husband or wife. Instead, spouses are sharing tasks – and women are no longer expected to juggle work and domestic duties with childcare, single-handedly and to the detriment of the marriage. Now a newly-published study concludes that divorce is twice as likely when husbands neglect housework. The findings support my own experiences and the changes in instructions that I have noticed amongst my clients. That exhausted drained wife-cum-housekeeper-cum-mother-cum-worker of the 1990s is a rarer find these days. Not extinct, but certainly less conspicuous.

So with my clearly very trusty crystal ball before me, what else do I predict for family law in these unsettled times?

Last night, watching an episode of the Tonight programme that was devoted to divorce, it struck me how shocking the cases featured were: the bitterness, the distress and the need to wash dirty linen in public. It was all extremely unpleasant.

Once again the irrepressible Baroness Deech popped up, fuelling the fire. I do not doubt that she means well. Lacking practitioner experience in the field, however, she doesn’t appear to appreciate how  her proposed changes to the law would make life even harder and more embittered for couples going through one of the worst times of their lives.

The programme focused upon a few spectacularly nightmarish cases. In reality, the vast majority of couples across the country settle their cases without a full-blown, contested court hearing. That they manage to do so is in most cases a result of the work done by skilled and experienced family lawyers. I was relieved to note that at the end of the programme, the presenter stated that the Ministry of Justice has no plans to alter the law in relation to financial settlements. Thank goodness for that.

But is the process for settling a case one that can be improved upon?

One area that I think will become much more popular is concerned with resolving disputes out of court. I am convinced that the forthcoming budget cuts will slash the legal aid bill (unfairly) and that the new Government will introduce ways of resolving disputes that had hitherto been destined for courts. Even now, I am hearing rumours about child contact disputes being dispatched to tribunals.

Whether a courtroom or a tribunal – I have never been an enthusiastic fan of either – I don’t like it when our clients hand over control of their lives to a third party and submit to a decision that may not suit either of them. When they make that step they are handing over their destinies to one person: the judge. Who knows how that will turn out – and ultimately, what’s the point? Is there perhaps a better way to help couples make informed decisions for their own benefit and that of their family?

So I have looked around, thought about it long and hard, discussed the pros and cons with various people and think that I may well have found “a new way” – one which will work. Here, exciting plans are now afoot; all will be revealed shortly.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known family law solicitors and divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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  1. John Bolch says:

    Looking forward to hearing more!

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