This Autumn there was a flurry of stories in the national press reporting the leak of a Government consultation paper which was in the process of being finalised. The paper was to announce that the current system of ''fault-based” divorce is set be scrapped, in what will be the biggest shake up of family law for nearly fifty years.
The consultation paper, entitled “Reducing Family Conflict”, was duly published shortly after. It is aimed at parliamentarians, the family judiciary, family law practitioners, academics, support organisations and those members of the public with an interest in family conflict, children’s wellbeing or the legal requirements for marriage and civil partnership dissolution in England and Wales – a large collection of stakeholder groups, which surely covers a sizeable proportion of the population of this country.
The present Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, the Right Honourable David Gauke, in his foreword to the report, refers to the recent case of Mr and Mrs Owens and the questions which the outcome in that case poses about the state of divorce law today. The Lord Chancellor writes that the purpose of the law must be to deal with the consequences of divorce in the most humane way possible, and continues that a process which requires one party to make allegations about the other party’s conduct serves no public interest.
At a debate convened by The Times on the 24 September this year, Family Justice Minister, Lucy Frazer MP spoke about the consultation paper alongside Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the former Lord Chancellor who had tried as long ago as 1996 to introduce “no fault” divorce, but had not succeeded. The panel also included Sir Paul Coleridge, a former High Court Judge who founded the Marriage Foundation and the former Head of the Family Division, Lord Munby. The only panel member who seemed to object to the proposed reforms was controversial columnist, Rod Liddle, who felt that simplifying procedures might encourage spouses to divorce who otherwise would have stayed together and that this was therefore damaging to children. It would be fair to say that his was a controversial view amongst those attending the debate.
This week is Resolution’s “Good Divorce week”. Resolution is a membership organisation of over 6000 specialist family lawyers who seek to minimise conflict where possible. For those who are interested in supporting Resolution’s aims to support a change in the law and to help to take the heat out of contested divorce proceedings and modernise our antiquated divorce laws, there is now the ability to personally contribute to the Government’s consultation paper here. Submissions have to be received by 10 December.