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New parliament a ‘perfect opportunity’ to introduce no-fault divorce

Family lawyers call on MPs to modernise family law after snap general election

4 May 2017

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The UK’s leading political parties should commit to modernising family justice in their respective manifestos, family lawyers have said ahead of the forthcoming general election.

Resolution, which represents around 6,500 family lawyers, has put forward four proposals to party leaders, which it claims ‘will make a huge, positive difference to the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people that separate each year’.

In a letter to each of the major parties, Nigel Shepherd, the national chair of Resolution, calls for MPs to commit to: providing cohabiting couples basic legal rights; ensuring fair access to the family justice system; giving people more financial clarity on divorce; and introducing no-fault divorce.

In his letter, Shepherd, who is head of family law at Mills & Reeve, states that ‘current divorce law does not encourage couples to divorce amicably’ and that ‘people often have to cite unreasonable behaviour or adultery on the divorce petition’.

Family lawyers argue this situation leads to unnecessary conflict, makes an amicable separation less likely, and reduces the chances of reaching agreement on children and financial issues.

Shepherd has proposed that current legislation is changed so divorce can be ‘finalised where one or both of the parties to a marriage give notice that their marriage has broken down irretrievably and one or both of them are still of that view after six months’.

He adds that ‘separating couples would be supported by information to help them explore whether the marriage can be saved and/or on the different process options available to them, as well as parenting information’.

A recent survey of family law professionals, over 90 per cent agree that no-fault divorce should be available to separating couples. The public is also supportive of a change in the law, with a recent YouGov poll finding 69 per cent agree that people should be allowed to divorce without blame. The same survey found that 69 per cent of Conservative voters back such a change in legislation.

‘It’s time to end the blame game. A new parliament is a perfect opportunity for politicians to finally act on no fault divorce, regardless of the outcome on June 8,’ Shepherd said. ‘This is why I have written to all major parties calling on them to make a clear commitment to modernise family law on this and other key issues for our members, such as rights for cohabiting couples, fair access to the justice system and financial clarity on divorce.

‘For too long, the family justice system and family law has been out of step with modern society. These measures would not only make the law fit for purpose in the 21st century, they would also make an immeasurable difference to hundreds of thousands of people who face divorce and separation each year – as well as any children they may have.

‘As parliamentary candidates now head out to knock on doors, Resolution encourages anyone working in the family justice sector to ask them to support our call for change. Together we can send a clear message to the next parliament that it’s time to modernise family law.’

The Conservative party is set to publish is manifesto on 8 May, with Labour following on 15 May.

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor at Solicitors Journal

john.vanderluit@solicitorsjournal.co.uk | @JvdLD

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