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MoJ under pressure to widen scope of divorce reform

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(21 March 2022)

As family lawyers prepare to welcome a new era of ‘no-fault’ divorce, the Ministry of Justice has come under pressure in the House of Lords to review the law governing financial provision.

A new system implementing provisions under the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 comes into force on 6 April. The system will remove the ability to make allegations about the conduct of a spouse and allow couples to end their marriage jointly.

The legislation does not cover financial provision, which is handled in separate proceedings, where the courts have wide discretion to provide for future financial needs.

Justice minister Lord Wolfson was pressed on when the government will review the law governing financial provision during a parliamentary debate last week.

Crossbench peer Baroness Deech, who re-introduced a controversial bill last year to reform the way the courts deal with financial settlements, said: ‘The new no-fault divorce law is coming into force [on 6 April], but the most miserable and litigious part of it will remain: the law about splitting assets and paying maintenance. That law is so bad that the ministry is paying couples £500 each to mediate and avoid it.

‘The promise was made two years ago to review it. Where is that review? Gathering evidence is no excuse for not formulating principle and I can offer this piece of evidence right away – legal costs eat up chunks of the assets. Unless it is reformed, the no-fault divorce law will fail to achieve its aims.’

Calling for a timetable, Conservative peer Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia, a high-profile divorce lawyer, said: ‘Society has changed, as has the way we operate, and the rules are so left to the judge’s discretion that there is an industry – I am almost ashamed to practise in it – which fine-tunes, for money, applications for ancillary relief because no one can predict the outcome of such an application accurately. We talk about the mythical mediator, but the mediator has to know what the rules are, because how can they mediate without the rules being clear and explicit?’

However, Baroness Butler-Sloss, a former president of the High Court’s family division, said financial provision was a complicated area of law and ministers would require ‘a lot of sensible advice’ before putting forward proposals.

Lord Wolfson replied that his department will look at financial provision ‘within a matter of weeks’ after the no-fault system comes into force.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)