What does the general election mean for family law?06 Dec 2019
Whatever your views on the “B word” and the current state of politics in the UK, family lawyers across the country were almost unanimous in their despair when the prorogation of Parliament spelt the end for the introduction of no-fault divorce and the draft Domestic Abuse Bill.
To coincide with the upcoming general election on 12 December, Resolution, the leading national organisation of family lawyers, has put forward its own manifesto for family justice: ‘Fairness for Families’. The manifesto calls on all political parties to commit to reforming the family justice system.
Below, our family associate Madalaine Hailey, a member of Resolution, and an Accredited Specialist in the areas of cohabitation and high net worth complex financial remedies, outlines the proposals of the manifesto and the benefits they would have to families.
1. No-fault divorce
Current laws allow parties to divorce without pointing the finger, but only if they both agree and only after they have been separated for two years or more. If only one party wants the divorce, they must wait five years before they can divorce without citing blame. Earlier this year, Kuits published an article on why the current system simply isn’t working and why change is needed.
2. Legal protections for cohabiting couples
Common law marriage is a myth. Currently, couples who have lived together and even raised children together are afforded no legal protections akin to those available to married couples, regardless of how long they have been together. This means that if one person has taken a career break to care for children, for example, he or she has no recourse against their former partner to help to support them and make up for years of lost earning potential and pension contributions. Likewise, if a person dies without making a will, their non-married partner stands to receive nothing from their estate after their death. Resolution is calling for basic protection for these cohabiting individuals.
3. Protection for victims of domestic abuse in the family courts
The Domestic Abuse Bill that was previously easing its way through Parliament proposed, amongst other things, that alleged perpetrators of domestic abuse should not be able to directly cross-examine their victims in the Family Courts. This is something which horrifies people but is sadly a far too commonly seen result of the huge reforms which were made to the legal aid system and which leave many people facing the family justice system without financial support for legal representation.
At the least, Resolution wants to see a commitment from all parties to reintroduce this draft legislation. Ideally we would like to see reforms in this area go further, including by extending special protection measures in the criminal courts.
4. Early legal advice for separating couples
Cuts to legal aid and the introduction of mandatory mediation appointments were intended to divert separating families away from the court system, but these changes have had the opposite effect. Resolution’s manifesto cites four in five family law cases involving a party representing themselves in court. They are calling or funding for initial advice and information meetings, to reduce conflict between separating couples and improve outcomes for children.
If you would like advice on any of the topics mentioned above, or any other family law matter, then please contact us.