David Hodson, Solicitor and Mediator
There is much to be proud of our English family law and family justice system. It has many benefits and advantages, and has been much copied abroad. However in the face of a substantial relationship breakdown culture across the country, and with significant Parliamentary neglect over almost 40 years, the time has now come for a wholesale overhaul of English family law, to support our families and strengthen marriage.
The importance of the family cannot be overstated. A child's physical, emotional and psychological development occurs within the family environment. It is where the vast majority of us learn the fundamental skills for life. It is a building block of society. However, family stability in the UK has been in decline for decades. The emotional and personal cost to individuals is high. The direct cost to government, employment, housing, crime, health and other ways is very high. The indirect costs are colossal and are calculated conservatively at £24 billion, with other research stating a staggering £37 billion. The culture of relationship breakdown must change for economic as well as social reasons. Our nation simply cannot afford the cost.
Accordingly, in 2007 the Centre for Social Justice established by Iain Duncan Smith MP in 2004, set up a Family Law Review to see how the law, legal procedures and processes might better support and encourage stability and commitment in relationships. Its report Every Family Matters published on 13 July 2009 contains 130 recommendations covering broad policy and specific detail of law reform. It is available from http://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/. The Review group comprised lawyers, academics, policy advisers and experts involved with family life. It involved 150 consultees, reading many written submissions and considering family law in other countries. Their report is probably the most far reaching and comprehensive review of family law for several decades. The recommendations, taken together, should help stop the culture of family relationship breakdown, will improve family life and support marriage.
Family law influences both public opinion and personal expectations and commitment to family relationships. It can do so positively and supportively. Yet it can (unintentionally) discourage commitment and willingness to engage in marriage and family life. The Review argues for a holistic, joined up set of reforms, from education through commencing a relationship, during the relationship, at a time of any relationship breakdown and the process of resolving breakdown issues. It says that there should be certain principles for all family law as set out in the Review and not piecemeal, ad hoc changes.
To read the rest of this article, see September  Family Law journal.
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