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Senior judiciary urge divorce law reform

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The law on divorce is unsuitable, hypocritical, out of date, unfair, unkind .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.

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. spinner says:

    I’m not sure about the others but Baroness Deech has been any absolute trail baser on these issues for years. I’ve followed the proposals she has put forward in the house of lords, all very good but they never get further than the lords, let’s hope now she has a bit more support they will.

  2. CW says:

    Wive falsely accuse husband of domestic violence (rape of wife) the hope is that there is conviction, so that she can claim Legal Aid. No Legal Aid is a huge problem. These false allegations cause a great strain on the police resources, great damage to the family unit. Dad is placed on bail, is not allowed to visit the marital home. The children are present when the husband is arrested, with the result that suddenly they don’t like Dad anymore, this myth is perpetuated by the wife, by simply stating in court: the kids do not want to see their father! Father takes out a children contact order, with minimal result as wive keeps on stating, he can’t look after the children. The Judges seem to believe her. Parental alienation ensues. Wife does not work, needs to look after the children she says. Children 10, 15,17. Why do the Judges not tell her that she has a financial obligation towards her children???. Wife seems to think that husband has to provide for everything even when it is obvious that he cannot return home in fear of further false allegations. By the way, police did not proceed they even did not even send the case to CPS. But it took half a year to come to that conclusion.

    Finally and two years later there will the financial settlement court hearing. Wife wants 100% of net value of house, currently a 4 bed detached house, leaving husband with no liquid funds to put towards a mortgage. Husband having worked all his life to provide a good house for wife and children. Wife lives the life of Riley, driving for Toni amd Guy expensive haircuts for her and the three girls. Etc etc. All have long hair!! Oh and you Husband can live in one bed flat as you have no need for more beds as the children do not want to see you anyway.

    Husband just earns £4300 net each month.

    I fear for what the Judge will rule in April, the wife could be awarded a whopping 85%, as the judge indicated at the last FDR, would be right. It is not! Many European countries the split is a straight 50%.

    Please is there a judge out there who can actually see what this divorce is all about? The wife wanting the husband in the gutter. Herself a rich divorcee. No more hazzle with ex-husband seeing the children. She wants an enormous spousal settlement until she 58, now she is 47.

    The system is rotten to the core if this is allowed. Not enough time allowed in Court. Court cases taking half a year or more between one another, especially the financial settlement ones.

    Damage done to the children and especially the husband. Wife laughing all the way to the bank. All her legal costs were paid for by her Father. Despite Her Father saying it needed not be repaid by wife until 2028. Judge at FDR indicated that is is a hard debt and should be repaid for out of the house proceeds! How wrong this is! Husband in a fact has to pay for her legal costs to date some £70k, Husband’s costs £50k
    Why are the courts so keen to damage these fathers mentally and financially? The system and the laws are wrong.
    Please is there a barrister, lawyer, judge out there who can help and make a fair judgement?
    By the way how can we take part in the parental alienation trial as initiated by Cafcass?

    *comment has been moderated*

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