Resolution, the association of family lawyers (which used to be called the ‘Solicitors Family Law Association’, saving the need for any explanation as to who they are) has put forward a ‘Manifesto for Family Law’ setting out what they consider the next government should do to reform the law relating to divorce and separation. I thought I would briefly set out my comments upon the proposals.
I’ll get two of the proposals out of the way quite quickly, as I’ve spoken here before in support of them: no fault divorce and basic property rights for cohabitants. The first of those is a ‘no-brainer’ – we really should have long ago moved on from attributing blame for the breakdown of marriage. As to cohabitants’ rights, the only sensible area for discussion must surely be what rights rather than whether, but I won’t get into that here.
The next proposal, which is actually two proposals in one, is also surely well supported: free initial legal advice for those who can’t afford it, and the abolition of fees for using the child maintenance system. The only (obvious) point I would make here is that if the new administration after the election is anything similar to the current administration, then the chances of getting any movement on either of these points must be slim indeed.
Moving on, Resolution wants to ‘introduce measures to help separating people reach agreement out of court’. This basically seems to mean supporting not just mediation but also collaborative law, solicitor negotiation and arbitration. I’m all for that, although I’m afraid I can’t see any government in the foreseeable future extending the availability of legal aid for all dispute resolution options, particularly those that involve lawyers.
Next up we have the ‘Parenting Charter’, to help parents understand their responsibilities when they separate.
We are told that:
“Resolution members have found that, despite most parents having their child’s best interests at heart, many don’t understand what their responsibilities are as a parent going through the separation process or when parenting apart.”
The Charter will address this by setting out what children should be able to expect from their parents if they are separating and what separating parents need to do in the interests of their children. All very admirable, but just one more layer to add to all the other law, guidance and rules that parents face after separation. In any event, the contents of the Charter are really just common sense. Most parents won’t need to be told this, and some may even find it offensive and condescending. Those that do need to be told such things as that their children have a right to protection from harm are unlikely to take any notice of a Charter anyway.
The last ‘call for change’ in the Manifesto is to ‘help people understand how their divorce will affect their future finances’. Basically, this involves reform of the rules relating to financial remedies on divorce, to achieve greater certainty and clarity. Again, all very admirable, but Resolution is a little thin on detail. They mention enforceable agreements, as recommended by the Law Commission, guidelines on the division of capital resources and pensions and a distinction between matrimonial property and non-matrimonial property in cases where resources exceed the needs of the separating couple. However, none of this is really new. Having said that, I’m not aware of any clear answers as to how the system may be improved.
Even if I don’t agree with all of what Resolution is proposing, reform is clearly needed in some areas and I do hope therefore that the Manifesto will help to put that reform on the political agenda.
You can read the Manifesto here.