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What role for the law? The government’s response to the Family Justice Review

The Government Response to the Family Justice Review, which was led by accountant David Norgrove and an almost exclusively child-focused committee, was published this week. Most of the report’s recommendations were, as expected, accepted – in particular those relating to streamlining the judicial process and making cost savings.

In these economically straitened times it is no surprise that the consensus is to keep divorcing couples out of court in order to ease the burden placed on them and save money.  As a result, we are soon going to have a more administrative divorce process; one that will no longer be managed by judges, and will have no requirement for them to approve the arrangements for children prior to granting a decree nisi. We will soon have the children of divorcing couples joining the ranks of those from separating cohabitants, who currently pass ignored and unchecked under the court’s radar.

In order to take heat out of disputes, words such as Contact and Residence and terms such as Alternative Dispute Resolution (including mediation, the collaborative process and arbitration) will all go, and the government will only make reference to “Dispute Resolution Services”. When I heard this I was reminded of the abolition of the words Custody and Access twenty years ago, for all the difference that has made.

Nevertheless, more money and time will be spent on mediation. There will be a tightening up of the requirements for couples to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) to seek advice from someone who need not even be legally trained, so long as they are a trained mediator. Couples are also going to be encouraged to look at online information services, rather than seek the advice of a solicitor who can advise them personally and in detail as to their own legal position.

So it’s all change…

Especially as far as the divorce process is concerned, with as much as possible being done to keep couples out of court and away from lawyers. Overall it’s a terrible, crying shame because people don’t (and realistically can’t) conduct their own surgery. You wouldn’t pull out your own teeth without the risk of horrible disfigurement and pain would you? Yet in a process that will shape the rest of their lives and the manner and standard of how they will live it, people are being actively and positively encouraged to walk blindfolded along an incredibly dangerous tightrope.

David Norgrove recommended in the Family Justice Review that there should be “a separate review of financial orders to include examination of the law”.

The Government Response is as follows:

The Law Commission is already taking forward a project to look at how provision might be made for pre-nuptial, postnuptial and separation agreements to be given legal effect, so as to provide couples with more control and certainty about how their assets are to be divided on divorce. Ministers have agreed that this project should be extended to include a limited reform on the substantive law on Financial Orders relating to needs and non-matrimonial property. The project will take around 18 months to complete. The Law Commission will then undertake a separate project to make recommendations for improving the enforcement of Financial Orders. These two projects together will improve the substantive law and make it easier to enforce Financial Orders once made by the courts.

On the same day as the government’s response was released this week, I received an invitation from Law Commissioner Professor Elizabeth Cooke to join the advisory group of legal practitioners, academics and members of the judiciary who will be considering this subject. I was delighted to accept since I have long been interested in pre and post-nuptial agreements, together with the application of the law in disputes relating to matrimonial and non-matrimonial property. More importantly, throughout this blog, I have been been extremely fortunate to gather a great deal of information from readers, who have expressed varying and diverse opinions about the present state and operation of the law.

I am very grateful to all my readers because, if I can, I intend to make reference to what I have learned from you in my new position. Thanks to you all.

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:

    Congratulations on your appointment! Let us hope that on this occasion the Government chooses to act upon the Commission’s recommendations!

  2. DT says:

    Well done Marilyn – good for you!

    Let’s hope they listen to the voice of reason with a generous helping of Yorkshire Common Sense!

  3. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Thank you.

  4. Graham says:

    I think the csa / cmec (marriage lite) needs to be abolished to promote marriage first (before this).

  5. ObiterJ says:

    Good news on your appointment to the committee. Yorkshire Common Sense – much needed everywhere !!

  6. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Thank you. I’m very proud to be from Yorkshire. I make no secret about it, it’s the most beautiful place in the country and Yorkshire people are generally straight talking and really do mean what they say. They’ve got oodles of common sense.
    They’ve also produced the best Rugby League team ever……yes the Leeds Rhinos who always fight back against all the odds to win, and set a great example to us all.

  7. ObiterJ says:

    I have linked to your post

  8. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Thank you.

  9. JamesB says:

    Sorry, but Berkshire is the best County ;-). Home to the Royals.

  10. JamesB says:

    With all respect Marilyn, I would have been a lot more impressed if they had also appointed someone from FnF or F4J to the panel also.

    The major decisions by these such bodies are always made without the participation of one of the major stakeholders – the father. It was the same with divorce reform, the csa, the children act and more divorce reform. It is no wonder that we are voting with our feet on marriage and csa and avoiding the (female orientated) family court like the plague.

  11. Yvie says:

    Congratulations Marilyn – I am confident you will do much to help ensure equality for both parents in the family courts.

    With best wishes.

  12. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Thank you Yvie.

  13. The genie is out: divorce procedure has changed forever, so why hasn’t the law? - Marilyn Stowe Blog says:

    […] have had plenty of discussion on the blog about law reform but few others outside of the profession (the President of the Family […]

  14. The Baroness Deech bill and spousal maintenance - Marilyn Stowe Blog says:

    […] income helps to meet needs. David Norgrove is the accountant who made his mark handling the Family Justice Review (FJR). He submitted that, although the FJR did not consider reform of ancillary relief (financial […]

  15. Government task force calls for mediation campaign - Marilyn Stowe Blog says:

    […] as well the public. It is is chaired by David Norgrove, the accountant who previously helmed the Family Justice Review back in […]

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