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Resolution calls for sweeping changes to laws on divorce and separation

Date:22 FEB 2015
  • Current laws 'outdated, inadequate and unfair', says Resolution
  • Dealing with separation should be just as high a policy priority as childcare or parental leave.
  • Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes to speak at launch of Manifesto for family law.

Resolution will today call for sweeping changes to the laws surrounding divorce and separation.

Launching its Manifesto for family law in Central London, Resolution’s Chair, Jo Edwards, will argue that the current laws are in desperate need of change. The launch will also hear from Family Justice Minister, Rt Hon Simon Hughes MP.

Speaking ahead of the launch, Jo Edwards said:

'Divorce can be one of the most traumatic life events a family can go through, and we all have a responsibility to ensure it’s dealt with in a way that minimises conflict, encourages amicable solutions where possible, and – most importantly – puts the needs of children first.

The fact is that, despite the family justice system going through a period of huge transformation in recent years – not least with the devastating cuts to legal aid – the laws governing it are woefully outdated, inadequate and unfair to many people.

With nearly a quarter of a million people getting divorced each year and around 100,000 children seeing their parents divorce, our laws are in desperate need of change.'
Resolution’s Manifesto makes six key calls for change.

It asks the next government to:
  1. Protect vulnerable people going through separation
  2. Introduce measures to keep divorce out of court
  3. Introduce a Parenting Charter to help parents understand their responsibilities when they separate
  4. Allow people to divorce without blame
  5. Help people understand how their divorce will affect their future finances
  6. Provide at least basic legal rights for couples who live together if they separate

Wake up call for politicians

The Manifesto has been launched as a wake-up call for current and future politicians who need to tackle this important issue. Jo Edwards added:

'Although it’s a difficult subject to talk about, dealing with families that face separation needs to be just as high a policy priority for the next Government as other family issues such as childcare and parental leave regardless of what happens in May.

That’s why we’re delighted the Minister is joining us to hear first-hand the changes that need to happen to improve the lives of people going through separation, and most importantly, children of separating parents.'

Calls for change go back many years

Despite repeated calls for reform, particularly around the issues of assigning blame in divorce, and rights for cohabiting couples, our laws have gone unchanged, says Resolution.

DIY Divorce and Separation
DIY Divorce and Separation
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Jo Edwards says:

'In a sense, what we’re calling for is nothing new. Successive governments of different political compositions have failed to address these issues.

Divorce without blame was actually provided for in the 1996 Family Law Act, but was never enacted and actually repealed just last year. We still have this charade of having to assign blame if you want a divorce and haven’t been separated for at least two years – even if both spouses agree their marriage is at an end. This is a huge barrier to amicable dispute resolution and unnecessarily introduces conflict into the process. There have been repeated calls for no-fault divorce from the judiciary and policy makers.

In 2007, the Law Commission recommended reforming the laws that apply to cohabitants if they separate. We now have nearly 6 million unmarried people living together, many of whom are still under the illusion that they have the same rights as married couples if they separate.

I’m sorry to say that, whilst families have changed, our laws have not.'

Parenting Charter

A key part of Resolution’s Manifesto is their Parenting Charter, drawn up in conjunction with the Family Justice Young People’s Board, which sets out what children should be able to expect from their parents during and after their divorce.

'It’s not necessarily the fact of divorce itself that affects children, but any conflict that surrounds it. The way the current law around divorce is set up encourages conflict. Essentially people who are divorcing are stuck in a pincer, between emotional hurt and the loss of a relationship on one side, and a legal system that encourages recrimination and blame on the other,' explains Jo Edwards.
She continues:

'Parents can get caught up in the heat of the moment during divorce and start thinking of their former partner as the enemy, and not as the mother or father of their child. People often think about children’s interests in the sense of their material wellbeing – but it’s the emotional impact of seeing their parents in conflict that creates lasting psychological scars for children.'

Divorce can have repercussions that last for life

'Our Parenting Charter aims to remind divorcing or separating parents that children are individuals with their own rights to information and a voice during the separation process.

Resolution recently published the findings of a survey of young people whose parents had separated or divorced. The results show the extent of the impact of divorce conflict on children, with 14% of the young people surveyed saying that they started drinking alcohol, or drinking more alcohol than previously, as a result of their parents’ divorce. Arguably more concerning, 13% admitted to experimenting, or thinking about experimenting, with drugs as a result of their parents’ break-up. There is a duty to ensure that the divorce is handled in a way that helps to mitigate the impact on children.

Ultimately, a high conflict divorce, which is encouraged by the system, often sees children caught up in adult disputes. This can have repercussions for children that will last for life.' 
An exclusive article by Jo Edwards exploring the Manifesto and Parenting Charter in greater detail will be published in April Family Law