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Modernise divorce law, says retiring judge

English divorce law was “designed for a wholly different era”, a High Court judge has claimed.

Sir Paul Coleridge said an independent commission should take a “new and fresh” look at divorce and financial provision law. He told the Family Law Conference in London this week:

“Since family law is intended to regulate family life as it is lived now and not in the distant past, it follows that the current divorce and financial provision law (not to  mention the law relating to unmarried partners) is no longer, I suggest, fit for purpose.”

He added:

“It was designed in a wholly different era to deal with a wholly different society and way of life. In the immortal words of John Cleese it is a dead parrot. It is no more; it has gone to meet its maker. Or should do.”

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, “with all its layers of crustacean growth needs to be humanely killed off and given a decent burial”, he claimed.

“…the heroic efforts of the Supreme Court to maintain the life support system need to stop. The Act has, quite simply, had its day.”

The courts should aim to be “innovative and much more daring”.

Most modern cases were not “gladiatorial wars of the titans”, insisted Sir Paul, and a more modern approach would save “bloodshed, time and cost”.

“The dinosaurs have had their day”, he insisted.

Sir Paul also told delegates of his plans to retire, “at least on a full time basis”, after more than 13 years as a High Court judge. He intends to devote more time to campaign group the Marriage Foundation, which he founded last year, and to “explore and push the possibilities of out of court ADR, mediation and arbitration processes.”

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Luke says:

    Initially I was pleased to hear a Judge admit that the divorce laws are a joke, but now I’m not so sure that this statement is good when I read further. It looks like another pitch to get cohabitation without a contract legally recognised with lots of onerous legal responsibilities so that they can all spend lots of time and money litigating…

  2. steve says:

    well said

  3. JamesB says:

    I like a bit of ADR.

  4. Tulsa Divorce Lawyer Matt Ingham says:

    Divorce law here in Oklahoma USA is antiquated. Our family law system was designed for an era long ago. It sounds like you all have a similar problem.

  5. Andrew says:

    Marriage is an emotional, legal and financial commitment.

    Cohabitation may or may not be the first, is not the second and should not be the third of those things. It is as wrong as it could be to treat people who have not entered into that solemn and public commitment as if they have. “Let’s pretend” is a nice game for children, even adults can have fun with it, but it’s a not a basis on which to redistribute other people’s money.

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