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Baroness Deech calls for fairer divorce laws for husbands

Date:17 SEP 2009

Baroness Deech has called for an overhaul of family law and in particular for an end to the idea that women deserve half of their husbands' wealth on divorce.

The chair of the Bar Standards Board made the comments on Tuesday in the first of six free public lectures she will give this year at Gresham College in London on Family Relationships and the Law since the 1960's.

"The notion that a wife should get half of the joint assets of a couple after even a short, childless marriage has crept up on us without any parliamentary legislation to this effect. Judges are ignoring the statutory direction to try to achieve a 'clean break' between divorcing couples," Lady Deech said.

The family law expert taught and lectured on the subject for more than 20 years at Oxford University and is the former chairman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

She believes it is wrong that ex-wives should be automatically kept in luxury at the expense of ex-husbands and that it is sending the wrong message to women.

"Trot down the road to the law courts and there you'll find a woman with maybe no particular qualifications, married for a short time to a celebrity of some sort, will walk away with many, many millions", Lady Deech told the BBC.

"The message that's going out is marry a footballer, marry a banker, stick it out for a few years and your lifestyle will always be on that level", she added.

Resolution, the family lawyers' association, agrees that a review of current divorce legislation is needed.

"Discretion is an important part of the family law system - enabling outcomes to be tailor made for families with the emphasis always on the best interests of children. But we agree that there is a need for the Law Commission to review current legislation in an effort to see if greater clarity and certainty can be delivered whilst the benefits of the discretionary approach are maintained," the association said in a statement.

Resolution also renewed its calls for urgent reform of family law to allow 'no-fault' divorce as well as the introduction of rights for couples who cohabit. The current system, it says, increases acrimony and mud slinging and leaves thousands who live together unprotected.