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Lords debate reforming divorce laws

Date:19 OCT 2010

ParliamentOn Monday evening the House of Lords debated reforming the laws governing divorce, including prenuptial contracts and no-fault divorce.

The debate was tabled by Baroness Ruth Deech who has commented extensively on the issue of reforming matrimonial law since she gave a series of six lectures on family law at Gresham College last year.

Former legal aid minister, Lord Bach said that by the time he had left his post that he had become convinced "that there was need for reform, and considerable reform, of our system of divorce in this country".

Speaking in favour of introducing compulsory mediation before legal aid is granted in matrimonial disputes, Lord Bach said that although we should be proud of our criminal law system, when it came to the "sensitive field of family disputes, is it really to be argued that confrontations in court should be the rule, rather than the exception?"

"However, there is - I have heard lawyers say this themselves - a belief that some lawyers in the industry have from time to time merely paid lip service to the option of mediation. In some ways, one cannot blame them because the incentive is to keep the case going," Lord Bach added.

Despite the fact that many of the issues discussed may be resolved tomorrow when the Supreme Court hands down its decision in Radmacher v Granatino, the Lords debated the benefits of prenuptial agreements becoming legally binding.

Lord Bishop of Blackburn was the only peer to speak against prenuptial agreements saying: "Such settlements, no doubt much loved by legal and financial professionals who profit from them, are in danger of reducing marriage to the economic bargaining of historic marriage contracts and of cheapening sacred commitments into balance sheets. Let us override cynicism with Christian realism. Of course we encounter a strong objection to the tenor of such requested legislation, for in a Christian understanding of marriage such prenuptials weaken and dilute our marriage vows of lifelong commitment, where sacrificial love forms the bedrock and the core."

Baroness Deech responded by pointing out that prenuptial contracts are common in many Catholic countries in Europe where the divorce rates are much lower than England and Wales.

Responding to the motion on behalf of the Government, Lord McNally said the Government will await the outcome of the Family Justice Review before making any decisions on comprehensive divorce law reform. It will also consider the Supreme Court's finding on prenuptial agreements carefully and the subsequent recommendations from the Law Commission.

He concluded: "We hope that, in 2011, those findings and studies will come together, which may be an opportune time to look at a range of reforms to our divorce law, so that it meets real needs and many of the criticisms that have been voiced today."