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Divorce bill must not overlook pensions – Society

By Monidipa Fouzder  >>

The Law Society has called for long-awaited legislation reforming divorce to be amended to ensure ex-spouses are not left financially vulnerable as a result of pension orders.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill moved to the report stage – further line-by-line examination – within the House of Lords today.

The Law Society raised concerns about pensions, saying these are often overlooked during the divorce process.

Simon Davis, president, said: ‘If couples choose to divide their pension using a pension-sharing order and a spouse passes away after the final divorce is granted before the order comes into effect, there is a chance the order could fail. As the divorce has been finalised, their ex-partner would also be unable to claim as a widow or widower – leaving them financially vulnerable.

‘The [bill] should be amended so that a final divorce order cannot be granted until the pension sharing order has taken effect – ensuring no party faces unfair financial burdens.’

Peers have already told the government to chop elements of the bill that would enable the lord chancellor to radically alter the reforms without parliamentary scrutiny.

The bill introduces a minimum six-month period between the first and final stages of the divorce process. Ministers have described the minimum timeframe as a ‘key element of the reformed legal process’ which gives couples an opportunity for reflection. However, new sections of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and Civil Partnership Act 2004 confer so-called Henry VIII powers on the lord chancellor to shorten the timeframe.

In a delegated powers memorandum, the Ministry of Justice says the ‘negative procedure’ is appropriate ‘because the powers are clearly circumscribed ones relating to procedural time periods which are further subject to the limitation that the lord chancellor may not lengthen the prescribed overall periods’.

Once the bill has been scrutinised at report stage, it will have a third reading in the Lords before moving to the House of Commons.

(Courtesy: Law Society Gazette)