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Family Law: reform needed for divorcing partners

Comment 20th July 2010

Dear Nick

Having gone through a divorce lasting almost three years, which ended up with a Final Hearing, I think the time has come for a complete overhaul of the law in England and Wales.  The process is not only exceedingly expensive, in part as there is a conflict of interest, in as much as solicitors seem to have little interest in wrapping things up early, hence draining hard earned family resources (money as well as the time and anxiety of one or both parties), but also it lacks any sort of clarity.  For instance, and what stood out in particular for me, was that the law in E&W does not clarify what is and isn't counted as family assets.  Secondly, that after going to court the first time, and having agreed verbally with the judge on certain things, my opposite number changed her mind a week later, resulting in considerable delay and additional expense.  And thirdly, it seems that although it may be fair for the courts to make sure that the welfare and interests of children are given priority, it seems to me that this consideration comes only at the end of the process, after both sides have spent a small fortune on legal fees (money which is no longer available for the family), and the children, despite both sides trying their best to shield them from the process, bearing witness to both parents being put under huge amounts of stress and anxiety as things are dragged on.  I cannot help but contrast our laws in E&W with many other countries in Europe, and even just to look across the border to Scotland, where things are dealt with far more efficiently, and where the law makes it much clearer how divorcing parties should handle their affairs.  In Sweden (just one example), the family assets are split 50:50 in virtually all cases.  Such clarity makes the process both short and cost-eefective.  There is minimal loss of family resources and the strain on parents is minimised.  Changes in the Family Law in E&W are desperately needed but will meet huge resistance from the legal profession as they still see it as a significant part of their work and a big money spinner.  It is too late for me to benefit any changes in this law, but I appeal here for changes to be made as I am sure that it will be in the interests of many many families in the future.  I am also quite certain that it is also in the best interests of children to change family law so the process of divorce is less complicated, provides clarity of process, and so that divorce (in particular the process of splitting assets) is done with minimal of fuss and on a time scale that should take no longer than six months in all but the most complicated (or high value) of cases.

Why does this matter?

My idea is important as, with the law as it is, huge amounts of hard earned family assets are being wasted on legal fees.  Even more important, the lack of any clarity in the law when it comes to deciding on what family assets are, and then on how to divide them up, means that the whole process takes far too long to settle, which takes too high a toll on far too many parents and their children.  It is now time to look at what happens in other European Countries (and SCotland) and to see if the law can be changed to improve the process of divorce.

One other point, is that the way E&W laws stand, I suspect I am not alone in thinking that, as a hard working citizen, I have to think twice before committing myself into any relationship where the financial assets and earning opportunities are significantly apart, especially as in E&W pre-nuptial agreements are not recognised in the courts (although they can be taken into consideration by a judge.. but then with so much variability between the decisions made by different judges, who wants to take a chance with who they get?)


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