Family law group, Resolution, is calling for a cross-party consensus on divorce law, and urging politicians to end the blame game and let couples officially part on amicable terms.
In a letter to all the UK’s major political parties in the run-up to next month’s general election, Nigel Shepherd, the chair of Resolution, has urged all politicians to commit to no-fault divorce in their forthcoming manifestos. Resolution has also called for greater clarity over the legal status of pre- and post-nuptial agreements, which are currently not enforceable in courts in England and Wales.
Why has Resolution taken this action? Well, according to research conducted by the family law group, 90 per cent of solicitors believe the UK’s divorce law needs to be modernised, particularly in relation to no-fault divorce. Resolution’s research received the majority backing of the public in a YouGov poll conducted in February which showed that nearly seventy per cent of people agreed that no-fault divorce should now be available for couples.
Mr Shepherd was highly critical of the current legislation, and argued the adversarial nature of the current divorce process does not encourage couples to divorce amicably.
‘People often have to cite unreasonable behaviour or adultery on the divorce petition. This leads to unnecessary conflict, makes an amicable separation less likely, and reduces the chances of reaching agreement on children and financial issues,’ he said.
Shepherd cited the recent Court of Appeal ruling in Owens v Owens to illustrate the case that reform is needed urgently:
‘It is simply wrong that in 2017 anyone can be forced to remain in a marriage that they no longer wish to be in,’ he said.
Shepherd also reminded politicians that no-fault divorce has been legislated before, in the Family Law Act 1996. What’s more, he also pointed out that in Scotland, Australia, several US states, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden no-fault divorce is accepted practice.
Resolution has proposed that political parties should adopt a policy that would enable a divorce to be finalised where one or both parties to a marriage give notice that their marriage has broken down irretrievably, and one or both of them remain of that view after six months. Separating couples would also be supported by information to help them explore their options.
Resolution has also asked politicians to commit to providing legal rights for cohabiting couples, who represent nearly 10 per cent of the UK population. It has proposed a legal framework of rights and responsibilities when unmarried couples who live together split up. This legal framework would also secure ‘fair outcomes’ when couples separate or one partner dies. Cohabitants who meet certain eligibility criteria indicating a committed relationship would have a right to apply for certain financial orders if they separate. This right would be automatic unless the couple chooses to ‘opt out’.
Ensuring fair access to the legal system, Resolution also believes that politicians should ensure fair access to the legal system and should provide funding for free initial advice for people with limited means, to help them identify their options on separation and divorce: this advice would help them to put the needs of any children first, and ensure they are better informed at the start of the process.