Senior judicial figures have called for major reforms to the family law system.
The legal grandees include former Family Division President Baroness Butler-Sloss, retired High Court Judge Sir Paul Coleridge, and legal academic Baroness Deech.
Sir Paul is the founder of campaign group the Marriage Foundation. He said:
“We must urgently do something about the laws on marriage and divorce. These are antediluvian and no longer fit for purpose. Our chief concern is to address the impact of the breakdown of relationships, particularly where there are children. These breakdowns have devastating consequences for both adults and children that can last for decades.”
Current legislation fuels “acrimony, hostility and pain” he insisted.
Speaking to The Times, Baroness Butler-Sloss was equally forthright, declaring:
The law on divorce is unsuitable, hypocritical, out of date, unfair, unkind . . . and very damaging to the children.”
She is keen, she said, to keep the issue “in the public eye.” The retired Judge added:
“Research shows that the [respondent] often does not accept the allegations made. It produces a very unhappy atmosphere. It is very damaging for the children to have parents who are fighting each other. If the parents have a corrosive end to the marriage, they are quite unable sometimes to recognise that a child loves both parents. What children want is for parents to part amicably so [they] can have a life with both parents.”
A private member’s bill proposing reform is expected in the New Year, the paper reports. It also claims that Lord Chancellor David Lidington is “open-minded” about reform and might support such a bill.
Unnamed sources said:
“David’s view is that this is a very worthwhile public debate to have,” they said. “Clearly this is an area where there has been no change in the legal framework for many years and it is worth revisiting.”
Speaking on Sky News this afternoon, Stowe Family Law Partner Graham Coy said that family lawyers have been calling for reform for some time. He agreed with the suggesting that current legislation is many ways behind times, citing the fact, for example, that people still have to wait two years after separation to divorce if they want to avoid the need to blame one party for the end of the relationship. Family lawyers do their best to protect their clients’ best interests, he continued, but current laws still sometimes end up doing more harm than good.
Turning to the topic of prenuptial agreements, he acknowledged that these do not receive automatic legal recognition in English courts, but explained that if they are entered into willingly, with proper legal advice, there has to be a very solid reason for them to disregarded by the Judge.
Presenter Stephen Dixon also asked about the vexed topic of civil partnerships for straight couples. Graham agreed with those who believe that they should be given the choice but said was more of a political issue than a legal one. He dismissed the idea the idea that reforms to marital law might undermine the institution of marriage, noting that the option to divorce does not in itself cause divorce.
In today’s edition, The Times also launched a campaign for reform called Family Matters. It called for the introduction of a ‘no fault’ divorce system, the end of lifetime maintenance awards, and automatic legal recognition of prenuptial agreements.