After weeks of campaigning, piles of political leaflets and round-the-clock media analysis, the General Election has finally arrived.
Following the conclusion of the three major political party conferences in October and the publication of two Green Papers, family policy became an important political issue in the 2010 election. In this election special we outline some of the policies from the three main political parties that will affect family law.
Labour announced their review into the family justice system as part of the Families and Relationship Green Paper. The Paper proposes greater access to children after separation for fathers and grandparents, improving flexible working for parents, doubling paternity leave from two weeks to four, and a consultation on whether mediation should be made compulsory for separating couples.
Legal Aid All three main political parties have said that the legal aid budget will face further cuts. Legal aid minister Lord Bach Bach said: "There are moments when politicians have to tell the truth and this is one of them. Legal aid is liable for more cuts under any government. We need to look at alternative ways to find money to fund criminal and civil legal aid cases."
Media Access to Family Courts Labour pushed through Part 2 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill which expands earlier Labour reforms that grant media access to family courts to allow journalists to view documents filed in family proceedings.
Marriage The Labour Party Manifesto rejects tax breaks for married couples and states that "financial support should be directed at all children, not just those with married parents".
Divorce Labour has no plans to change the law on divorce or introduce quicker no-fault divorces.
Civil Partnerships The Government has resisted calls to turn civil partnerships into full legal marriage status.
Legal rights for cohabitees In July 2007 the Law Commission for England and Wales published proposals to give cohabitees similar legal rights to married couples when they split up. Labour has said it will wait to see the effect of similar legislation in Scotland which was passed in 2006 before bringing forward any plans for new legislation.
Parental smacking The Government has resisted calls for an outright ban on smacking. Children's Minister Kevin Brennan said in 2007: "The Government will retain the law in its current form, in the absence of evidence it is not working satisfactorily".
Children's database In November 2009 the Government rolled out the children's database ContactPoint to local authorities and frontline practitioners nationally. The database will give an estimated 400,000 people access to personal information of all children under 18 as well as information about their parents, schools and medical records.
Iain Duncan Smith's think tank the Centre for Social Justice published the Green Paper on the Family, which showed only 3 per cent of couples with children who stay together until the child is 16 are unmarried. Mr Duncan Smith said: "All the evidence shows that children brought up in two-parent families do far better in life. Yet under Labour, rates of family breakdown have soared." The Conservatives Manifesto promises to "mend our broken society" and support families in the tax and benefits system, extend flexible working and improve parental leave.
Legal Aid Shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve QC said that the Conservatives will ‘go back to the drawing board' and would conduct a legal aid review to explore new funding options and examine ways to relieve pressure on the legal aid fund. He said: "We have got to do something completely new. Our intention is to do that by bringing in new funding streams." Options include a contingency legal aid fund; before-the-event insurance; and a version of the French scheme whereby money from solicitors' client accounts is pooled and funding is gained from the interest generated.
Media Access to Family Courts The Conservatives resisted Part 2 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill and introduced a requirement for full independent review to media access in the family courts prior to its introduction.
Marriage The Conservatives plans to recognise marriage and civil partnerships in the tax system with a £150 average tax reduction per couple.
Divorce The Scottish Conservatives opposed the quicker divorce measures contained in the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006.
Civil Partnerships David Cameron has said the Tories "will recognise marriage, whether between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman or a man and a man, in the tax system". At a meeting in April with gay rights activists, Shadow Chancellor George Osborne said: "David Cameron and I are very happy to consider the case for gay marriage."
Legal rights for cohabitees In November 2009 Henry Bellingham MP, a Tory frontbench justice spokesman, told the BBC Politics Show that the Tories would support a new cohabitation law whereby unmarried couples would receive similar rights to those who are married. However, following a backlash from Tory newspapers, David Cameron distanced himself from the comment and David Willetts, who has responsibility for family policy, said: "We are conducting a review of family law and no decisions have been taken".
Parental smacking In October 2007 the Tories said they opposed an outright ban on parents smacking their children.
Children's database The Conservatives have pledged to scrap the ContactPoint database and invest the savings into more front line services if they win the general election.
The Liberal Democrat manifesto backs a series of proposals to make children safer and ease the burden on social workers across the UK. They have also pledged to allow parents to share parental leave between them and will maintain Labour's commitment to end child poverty in the UK by 2020.
Legal Aid Liberal Democrat justice spokesman David Howarth commented on Legal Aid reforms: "All the current reforms have been designed to drive down quality". He suggested decentralisation of provision would reduce costs.
Media Access to Family Courts The Liberal Democrat Lords spokesperson for Children, Schools and Families Baroness Walmsley spoke strongly in opposition to the introduction of Part 2 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill when it was debated in the House of Lords last month.
Marriage The Liberal Democrats are against favouring marriage in the tax system. Families Spokesman Susan Kramer said: "Liberal Democrats recognise ‘real' families, as they exist in all their variations and complexity - traditional families, families centred on heterosexual but also gay and lesbian relationships, multi-generational families, step-families, extended families and single parent families."
Divorce A recent Lib Dem policy paper states that the party will promote mediation in divorce. The Scottish Lib Dems introduced measures to allow quicker divorce in the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 as coalition partners with Labour.
Civil Partnerships Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has said: "I support gay marriage. Love is the same, straight or gay, so the civil institution should be the same, too. All couples should be able to make that commitment to one another."
In addition the Liberal Democrats launched a campaign to gain equal recognition of UK civil partnerships in other EU Member States that also have same-sex partnership legislation.
Legal rights for cohabitees Lib Dem Peer Lord Lester proposed a backbench Cohabitation Bill, aiming to give legal protection and recognition to unmarried couples, both same sex and opposite sex.
Parental smacking It is Lib Dem policy to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into UK legislation, which would mean banning parental smacking.
Children's database The Lib Dems passed a motion at their annual conference calling for the scrapping of ContactPoint. The Liberal Democrats Children and Families Spokesperson, Annette Brooke said: "The Government is pinning a lot of hope on its massive children's database, but this huge, intrusive project will not encourage professionals to talk to one another. It should be scrapped, with the money saved used to give social workers extra support, allowing them to spend more time with families and less time completing paperwork."