A week in family law
Speaking at the national conference of Resolution, the association of family lawyers, Chair Nigel Shepherd has repeated the organisation’s call for the introduction of a system of no-fault divorce.
Referring to the recent Owens case he said:
“It’s simply wrong in this day and age that someone should be forced to stay in a loveless marriage because the behaviour on the divorce petition wasn’t deemed ‘unreasonable’ enough. There are more than 110,000 divorces each year – every day the government delays, more than 300 couples get a divorce. That’s 600 people, every day, running the gauntlet of a system that actively encourages conflict and blame.”
Responding to suggestions that the present government may not have time to deal with such an issue, Resolution members have demanded that Parliamentarians do not allow Brexit negotiations to stop the momentum that is building for no fault divorce. Whether these demands will be listened to, I have my doubts.
The pro-marriage charity the Marriage Foundation has claimed that an analysis by them of figures from the Office for National Statistics has shown that cohabiting couples now account for over half of family breakdowns, despite making up only a fifth of parents.
Sir Paul Coleridge, founder and chairman of Marriage Foundation, commented:
“Whenever family breakdown statistics are discussed people assume it means married couples divorcing, but that is not the real mischief. The real mischief is that separating cohabiting as opposed to divorcing couples are four times more likely to split up. This is the driver of the national tragedy of mass family breakdown.”
I do enjoy reading about this “we know best” attitude towards families and relationships. Who is to say that when a couple decide to cohabit they are any less committed to the relationship than a couple who decide to marry? And who is to say that the overall number of failed relationships would be altered by a greater proportion of all relationships taking the form of marriage, rather than cohabitation? After all, forcing couples to stay together does not ensure that their relationships are happy ones. And all this alarmist talk of a “national tragedy” puts a quite appalling and unmerited stigma upon those who choose not to enter into the state-governed construct of marriage.
Moving on, figures obtained by The Independent newspaper indicate that the number of people charged with offences relating to domestic abuse have dropped by more than ten per cent in just one year, even as the number of alleged incidents rose. Across the police forces that provided information, the number of reports of domestic abuse increased from 431,000 to 444,600 between 2015 and 2016, but charges brought by police fell, from 60,700 to 54,800. The figures have prompted women’s rights advocates to condemn what they call the “decimation” of support services, and to warn that “something is clearly going wrong” with the policing of such crimes. All rather worrying.
Still on the subject of domestic abuse, a London man who violently abused two former partners is believed to be the first person in England and Wales who must tell police if he gets a new girlfriend. Under a seven-year criminal behaviour order, the man is required to inform police if he is in a relationship for more than 14 days. Meanwhile, officers can tell new partners about his previous violent behaviour, under the domestic violence disclosure scheme. It is thought that the specific requirement to notify police about developments in his private life is a legal first. I’m all in favour of keeping people safe from domestic abuse, but I’m not sure how the order is going to be policed – after all, how can the authorities know if he is in a relationship, unless he is kept under constant surveillance? The weak point in the idea, it seems to me, is that it relies on the ‘possible perpetrator’ to comply with the order.
And finally, a survey commissioned by a certain other national law firm has found that more than a third of those surveyed who were living in cohabiting couples either believed they had the same rights as married couples, or did not know. The reality, of course, is that cohabiting couples do not have the same legal rights as married couples. The survey comes as no surprise whatsoever (the myth of the ‘common law marriage’ continues to endure), but surely adds weight to the calls for the introduction of a system of property rights for cohabiting couples.
Have a good weekend.