In the current political climate of manifestos, TV debates and big new plans for our society, Resolution (the family lawyers’ organisation of England and Wales) has joined in by putting forward its manifesto and proposals on divorce and separation for the next government to consider.
Resolution’s manifesto has prompted a “re-think” on how divorce and separation should be thought of, dealt with and managed in the most amicable and constructive manner possible.
The manifesto calls for urgent transformation to outdated law. It seeks to put forward alternative options for divorcing couples, a further emphasis on the needs of any child at the centre of a divorce, a “no-blame” culture and changes to help people understand how divorce will affect them in the long-term.
The manifesto invites the next government to consider six proposals, four key ones being:
- Introduction of measures to keep divorce out of court The Government has previously emphasised mediation as the only alternative to court. In fact, many other avenues are already available to separating couples, such as collaborative law, arbitration and round table meetings between solicitors. There is no “one size fits all” approach to separation and other options alternative to mediation and going to court should be emphasised to those who wish to divorce. Divorce and separation should be “tailor–made” to match the needs of the individuals and circumstances involved.
- Introduction of a “Parenting Charter” Often, conflict and emotional breakdown during a divorce can obstruct parents’ intentions to put the needs and interests of their child(ren) first. A clear “Parenting Charter” would clarify and identify the necessary objectives to ‘co-parent’ a child as a separated couple and further that child’s welfare. It would allow for both children and their parents to understand and recognise what it means in practice to uphold a child’s best interests.
- Allowing people to divorce without blame Unlike procedures in some other countries, current divorce procedure in England and Wales can encourage a “blame game”, due to some requirements to cite adultery or unreasonable behaviour as reasons for divorce. Arguably this can undermine the concept of a child-focused or conflict-free divorce, because negative examples of one party’s behaviour must be stated at the very start of the divorce process. The hope is that in doing away with this requirement and introducing a ‘no fault divorce’, both parties will undertake the divorce process on an equal footing, ultimately resulting in a far more amicable result.
- Helping people understand how their divorce will effect their future finances Family lawyers are the first to state that family proceedings can be full of “litigation risk” with financial outcomes that are often unpredictable. This is partly due to section 25 Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (the factors to be taken into account when dividing money between divorcing parties), which has remained fundamentally unchanged for the last 40 years. The law needs to offer greater certainty on the level and payment of maintenance during a period of uncertainty and change following separation.
In a fast-paced culture where separation and divorce are on the rise, Resolution has put forward a compelling case that the next government must commit to updating the current system to bring it in line with a changing society and reduce the costs, both financial and emotional, and pressures on all involved.