Whether you love them or (like me) loathe them, general elections are increasingly being used by those seeking changes in the area of family law as an opportunity to push for those changes to be introduced. In fact, I don’t remember a previous election where there has been so much ‘campaigning’ in connection with family law related matters. Of course, whether the next government will take any notice is another matter entirely.
Quickest off the mark were family lawyers’ association Resolution, which launched its Manifesto for Family Law way back in February, in which it set out what it considered the next government should do ‘in order to improve the lives of separating and separated families across England and Wales, for marriages, civil partnerships and unmarried couples’. The Manifesto identified six ‘key areas’ where changes are needed to our family justice system, including the introduction of no-fault divorce and ‘basic legal rights’ for cohabitees. I have set out my views on the Manifesto here previously.
Of course, Resolution are not alone in wanting the introduction of no-fault divorce and property rights for cohabitees. Baroness Hale has spoken recently about the former, and many have championed the latter, including Marilyn Stowe.
If I were a betting man I would say that there was a 50:50 chance of the next government introducing no-fault divorce, but I would put the chances of cohabitees’ rights being introduced rather lower than that, unfortunately. Cohabitees’ rights are still something of a ‘political hot potato’, whereas I think the time for no-fault divorce may finally have arrived, particularly as it fits in with modern views (held by the old government) of reducing animosity and encouraging the resolving of disputes by agreement.
Whilst I haven’t perhaps been paying as much attention as I ought to (I’m afraid I find most electioneering sleep inducing), I haven’t noticed much mention by any of the political parties themselves of any intention to institute reform in the area of family law. However, and without intending to take sides at all, I do welcome the announcement by the Labour Party that if they win the election they will bring forward a review into the Child Maintenance Service. The changes introduced to the child maintenance system by the last government, in particular the introduction of charges for using the Service, have meant that many families will not receive the maintenance that they need, and a review is therefore definitely required.
Another unpopular change introduced by the old government was, of course, the reform of legal aid, including the abolition of legal aid for most private law matters. The consequences of these disastrous changes are clear for all to see, with people struggling to represent themselves, courts clogged with litigants in person and people unable to obtain the legal redress that they should be entitled to. The many voices calling for the changes to be reversed, or at least ameliorated in some way, have recently been added to by the somewhat unconventional cartoon characters of the Legal Aid Team, which is directly seeking to bring the issue to the forefront of the election campaign agenda. I wish them luck, but sadly I do not see any forthcoming government being prepared to return us to the position prior to the changes.
Which is a bit of a negative way to end this post, but I suppose that is the reality of political campaigning: much is said, but very little of what is said actually comes to fruition. Even where there is general support for a particular change, governments have priorities, and family law reforms are not at the top of the list. Still, I did note that the outgoing government did find time to instigate a review of the law of marriage, something that I would not have thought to be a priority, so I suppose there is always hope.
Photo by secretlondon123 via Flickr