No fault divorce would increase a general sense of family responsibility the President of the Supreme Court has claimed.
Speaking over the weekend at the annual conference of Resolution, Baroness Hale of Richmond gave her stamp of approval to the family law organisation’s ongoing campaign to reform Britain’s ageing divorce laws, saying:
“It may seem paradoxical to suggest that no-fault divorce is aimed at strengthening responsibility, but I believe that it is. The contents of the [divorce] petition can trigger or exacerbate family conflict entirely unnecessarily. Respondents are encouraged by their lawyers to ‘suck it up’ even though the allegations are unfair. There is no evidence at all that having to give a reason for the breakdown makes people think twice.”
The 73 year-old legal veteran compared the citation of adultery or other “faults” as grounds for divorce in England – in 56 per cent of divorce hearings – with Scotland, where just six per cent of divorce applications cite fault, under a different legal system.
The Yorkshire born Justice also expressed her support for the introduction of property rights for cohabitants as well as civil partnerships for heterosexual couples. The latter will be topic of a Supreme Court hearing on 14 May: R (on the application of Steinfeld and another) (Appellants) v Secretary of State for the Home Department.
Lady Hale was not, however, in favour of the automatically time-limited maintenance awards given in Scotland, saying she believed indefinite payments was sometimes fair.
She recalled working as a part of a team at the Law Commission which called for reform of English divorce law as long ago as 1990, saying many of the proposals then made were still relevant today. The President stressed, however, that the impetus for change must come from government.
“It is not the job of the courts to legislate. Only parliament can do that. Our job is to interpret law that parliament has given us.”
Lady Hale image credit: University of Salford Press Office.