The UK’s divorce laws are a hot topic, with the debate fuelled by TV programmes like Divorce Wars and The Times newspaper’s family campaign advocating change.
When a relationship breaks down, couples are understandably keen to move on as soon as possible. Yet at the moment, unless you have been separated for at least two years, the only grounds for divorce involve blame: having to file a so-called ‘fault based’ petition based on one party’s adultery or ‘unreasonable behaviour’. The need to prove that the marriage has broken down irretrievably is hardly conducive to achieving amicable settlements about vital aspects such as your children and finances.
A timely catalyst
Members of Resolution, the 6500 strong group of lawyers involved in looking after divorcing couples, have been campaigning for change for many years: http://www.resolution.org.uk/campaigns/.
Now, with the HM Courts and Tribunals Services looking to roll out a fully online divorce application process across England and Wales, the timing for looking at the outdated laws could not be more opportune. The Justice Secretary has agreed to review the case for reforming divorce laws; he has acknowledged the strength of feeling on this issue and will study the evidence for change.
Divorce may not be the end
However, divorce itself does not resolve any financial claims a couple may have against each other. In the recent high profile case of Wyatt v Vince (2016), the family courts approved the terms of a financial settlement made between a husband and wife over 19 years after their final decree of divorce had been granted. This served as a stark reminder of the need to deal with the financial consequences of relationship breakdown as they arise.
Many people do not realise that financial claims between divorcing spouses remain open until they are formally dismissed by a court. This has led to some instances where couples have brokered their own arrangements, not wanting to involve lawyers, only to face problems later when one party no longer wants to stick with the deal.
Avoiding a divorce war
The process for resolving a family dispute doesn’t have to be adversarial. For example, collaborative law is an alternative to litigation in the courts. The collaborative process involves you and your former partner sitting around the table with the collaborative practitioners you have appointed, to work things out face to face. Rather than dealing through your solicitors, you’ll work with the practitioners to decide how the assets are to be shared and, if you have children, how these responsibilities will be apportioned.
Mediation is another process that enables separating couples to communicate with each other and make decisions together about the future. Mediation should not be confused with conciliation or relationship counselling. The sole objective of the process is to help you reach an agreement that allows both of you, and other family members, to move forward separately in the most constructive way.
Ongoing support after the divorce
Both the mediation and collaboration processes are also available to couples who have already divorced, but want to deal constructively with disputes on issues that have emerged afterwards. This might be the need for new arrangements for children as they grow up or varying financial commitments following a change of circumstance.