Today, 30 November, more than 150 family lawyers from all over England and Wales are travelling to Westminster to lobby Parliament. Like all family lawyers who are members of Resolution – First for Family Law, they are pressing for changes in legislation to reduce the devastating effect of separation and divorce on family life.
One key aim is to support the introduction of no-fault divorce. Believe it or not, no-fault divorce was introduced – with much fanfare – by John Major’s government in the Family Law Act 1996. However, most of the Act was never implemented, largely because powerful advocates of “family values” felt that making divorce easier gave the wrong message.
Family lawyers know this is not true. Divorce is never easy. Allowing couples to separate consensually, without relying on “fault” by one party, would go some way towards reducing acrimony and enabling the couple to focus on resolving the most important aspects of their separation.
At the present time, a party wishing to divorce without waiting for at least two years must rely on either adultery or unreasonable behaviour. Family lawyers routinely advise clients not to be over-concerned about the grounds of the divorce, which rarely have any bearing on the financial settlement or future arrangements for the children. However, it is easy enough for a solicitor to give this advice; but it can be devastating for a spouse who is already reeling with shock at the ending of the marriage to find themselves accused of unreasonable behaviour.
Twenty years on from the Family Law Act, divorce and family breakdown are more common than ever. The rationale for “moth-balling” the parts of the Act which deal with divorce has been shown to be wrong, and the case for no-fault divorce is as strong as it ever was.
Over recent years the Government has strongly promoted mediation and other non-litigious means of resolving family disputes. These are all valuable, so it seems perverse that the Government still fights shy of taking the simple step of implementing the 1996 Act. Maybe a crowd of family lawyers bearing banners and red balloons will help change its mind!