The Times newspaper has put its weight behind the call to modernise family law in England and Wales with the launch of its Family Matters campaign.
Supported by senior figures in the legal world, and the charity Marriage Foundation, The Times launched its demand for ‘sweeping reforms’ of family laws to put children and relationships first.
I am pleased to see this prestigious national newspaper urging a reform of outdated legislation. As regular readers of the Silk Family Law blog will know, I have long campaigned for fairer family law and have been involved in Resolution’s lobbying for ‘no fault divorce’ legislation.
The Times’ campaign comes just two weeks after a report from the Nuffield Foundation condemned current divorce law in England and Wales for ‘incentivising people to exaggerate claims of "behaviour" or adultery to get a quicker divorce'.
The Family Matters campaign outlines a ‘Five-Point Plan for Change’.
‘The Times supports the institution of marriage, but a reform of laws in England and Wales is needed to bolster family stability, end financial injustice and remove acrimony from divorce. They include:
- Scrapping fault-based divorce laws, allowing divorce within a year where both sides agree, and two where they do not — as in Scotland
- Ending the outdated and patronising “meal ticket for life” that can result from present laws on splitting assets and awarding maintenance after divorce, except where hardship would be caused
- Giving prenuptial contracts the backing and force of statute. At present they are non-statutory, which leads to further uncertainty and bitterness when marriages fail
- Extending civil partnerships to heterosexuals so that they can have the same security as married couples should they wish. Civil partnerships are offered only to same-sex couples at present
- Creating rights for long-term unmarried couples. This would remove injustices that occur when one partner is left without any right to financial award or maintenance if they break up, possibly after many years of living together [injustices highlighted during this week's Cohabitation Awareness Week].’
In its leader comment, the paper said: ‘Parliament needs to reform divorce laws that force couples to blame one another instead of preserving an amicable relationship for the good of their children.’
Whilst recognising that a ‘happy marriage usually increases the changes of a happy childhood’ for a married couple’s children, the paper comments:
‘An unhappy marriage is at best a burden, while a bitter divorce can directly harm children’s mental health with long-term effects that last for decades.’
The paper comments that growing support for blame-free divorce means that an overhaul of legislation looks certain to be promoted in a Private Member’s Bill early next year. I sincerely hope that the Family Matters campaign adds weight to argument to modernise family laws, and that before too long Parliament will end the culture of blame in divorce.