On Wednesday 30 November, Joseph Mulhern, solicitor in Mackrell Turner Garrett’s family law team attended the Houses of Parliament for a lobby day organised by Resolution – the national body for family lawyers and other family justice professionals – which encourages a non-confrontational approach to family law matters.
The main area of family justice reform Resolution is campaigning for is the introduction of ‘no fault divorce’. Currently, unless divorcing couples have been separated for at least two years, in order to obtain a divorce, one party has to rely on the other’s adultery or unreasonable behaviour. This leads to a blame game which can escalate conflict. Resolution is particularly concerned about the impact conflict and confrontation between separating parents has on their children.
Other issues of reform Resolution were promoting were:
- Rights for cohabiting couples who now represent nearly 10% of the population of the UK. Currently it is possible to live with someone for decades and have children together and then simply walk away without taking any financial responsibility for a former partner when the relationship breaks down. This can have a huge impact on women and children, particularly in cases where a mother has given up or reduced her work to raise a family.
- Fair access to justice. As a result of legal aid reforms in 2013, most people who were previously eligible for legal aid in family law matters no longer are. This has forced a huge increase in people being forced to represent themselves in court proceedings and Resolution want the Government to fulfil its commitment to carry out a review of the reforms.
- Court modernisation. Resolution has opposed the Government’s decision to close 86 courts across England and Wales. Those most affected by the closures will be vulnerable people such as victims of domestic violence and those who rely on public transport. The Government has stated that the savings created by closures will allow for modernisation of the remaining family courts. Resolution urges the Government to press on with the required modernisation work urgently.
On the Lobby Day, there were three speakers:
- Bob Neil MP, Chair of the Justice Select Committee, who spoke of the benefit of taking confrontation out of divorce, explained the Justice Select Committee had opposed a rise in the court fee to issue a divorce from £410 to £550 because the Government should not be making a profit out of a captive market and expressed concerns about the increasing numbers of litigants in person and the potential for increased conflict this can cause.
- Nigel Shepherd, Head of Resolution, who stressed that everyone, including politicians, has a responsibility to minimise acrimony on relationship breakdown and parents should not be forced into a blame game. He argued that introducing a no fault divorce system does not make divorce easier – people know when their marriage has broken down and do not take the decision to divorce lightly.
- Richard Burgon MP, Shadow Justice Secretary and Shadow Lord Chancellor, who asserted that divorce law is struggling to keep pace with social change and that it should be brought into the 21st He said he understood why people are concerned a no fault divorce would diminish the institution of marriage, but divorce must be free of bitterness and struggle where possible and currently the law does not encourage rancour-free divorces. He also pointed out that a no fault divorce could ease the current pressure on the court system. He also argued that there should be debates in Parliament regarding rights for cohabiting couples and the effect of legal aid reforms.
Throughout the day Resolution members met with their local MPs to lobby them about the various issues and Resolution hopes that a number of MPs will now commit to legislating for a no fault divorce and the other proposed reforms.