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Resolution calls on Government for changes in divorce

View profile for Sam Miles
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The number of divorces and separations is constantly on the rise in the UK, with 118,140 divorces occurring each year.  With so many people affected, Resolution, the organisation representing 6,500 family lawyers and other family professionals, is calling on Government to change the law to make the whole process less stressful, leading to less conflict and less impact on the children involved.  Sam Miles, Family law Partner, reviews the proposals and advises what people can do now who find themselves facing divorce or separation.

“Resolution’s Manifesto makes some very welcome proposals to Government to help improve the system for those divorcing or separating across England and Wales,” begins Sam.  “There are six key areas that Resolution has focussed on in order to provide support to couples, help parents put their children first, produce lasting decisions that both parties agree on, while also protecting those who are vulnerable to domestic abuse.”

The first proposal is to support those going through a separation who may be financially vulnerable.  “This proposal has been born from the cut backs made to Legal Aid in 2013,” explains Sam.  “When these cuts were made it resulted in many people facing divorce or separation without access to important legal support, leading to confusion and a clack of clarity over what their options are and their different options to dispute resolution.”

Children are at the heart of many divorce situations and according to the Office of National Statistics, 48% of divorcing couples have at least one child under 16.  “Children play a key role in Resolution’s proposals and under this first initiative they are also proposing that the Government abolishes the £20 fee and collection fees when parents use the Child Maintenance Service (CMS),” continues Sam.  “These fees were implemented in August 2014 and already there’s been a 38% decrease in the number of applications, meaning that a high number of children are missing out on crucial money that could mean the difference between a life in or out of poverty.”

The second proposal is an extension of the Government’s already existing implementation for dispute resolution; namely Mediation Information Assessment Meetings (MIAMs).  “MIAMs were introduced last year as a mandatory step for couples looking to make a court order on finances or children matters to consider mediation,” explains Sam.  “While Resolution is supportive of the Governments attempts to resolve issues out of Court, they do believe more can be done.  Namely, they wish to relaunch the meetings as Advice and Information Meetings and make these available earlier in the process instead of just prior to a court application.”

The third proposal again tackles potential issues surrounding children.  “Resolution are proposing a parenting charter to help simplify the current complicated laws and definitions for parents who need to consider their actions in the best interests of their children” continues Sam.  “The charter would explain the children’s rights, such as a right to be at the centre of any decisions about their lives, the right to be kept informed about matters in an age-appropriate manner, privacy and respect for their feelings etc.  Hopefully if all this can be done by both parents involved this should minimise the risk of having to go to court to settle any differences.”

Resolution’s next proposal focusses on the motivations for divorce, and moving away from a notion of one of the parties being at fault.  “Other than a separation for 2 years, at the moment the reasons for divorce are either adultery or unreasonable behaviour, which can create unnecessary conflict between the couple and gives one party the upper hand,” explains Sam.  “Resolution proposes an overhaul to the system so that one or both parties can give notice that the marriage has broken down.  After 6 months, the divorce can proceed and if either or both parties believe they have still made the right decision, the divorce is finalised.”

Finances form the basis for their next proposal by giving divorcing and separating couples an understanding of how a divorce will impact their financial future.  “The law around this area can be tricky, and if one party has no understanding of their financial status as a married couple, they are more than likely going to be unaware of where they will be left after the divorce,” continues Sam.  “Resolution are proposing clear guidance for those entering the court system into their potential outcomes and consequences.”

Finally, Resolution are calling for a change to the basic legal rights for unmarried couples who live together if they separate.  “Co-habiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK and at the moment in England and Wales there is no protection for them if they separate,” explains Sam.  “Resolution proposes introducing some form of eligibility criteria for cohabiting couples to show they are in a committed relationship.  If this can be achieved they will access certain rights around making financial orders, bringing them more in line with the rights of divorcing couples.”

Sam concludes, “It’s clear from Resolution’s Manifesto that there are big changes to be made to the divorce and separation process to ensure people are protected, including the children of the family.  These changes are moving towards a fairer system for all, and here at Warner Goodman LLP we are certainly in support of that as we see every day the impact that divorcing and separating has on individuals and their families and anything that will reduce this emotional and financial stress should be welcomed by Government.”

If you are going through a divorce or separation and have any questions about the process, or you’re interested in trying mediation, you can contact Sam or the Family team on 02380 717431 or visit their section of the website here.

ENDS

This is for information purposes only and is no substitute for, and should not be interpreted as, legal advice.  All content was correct at the time of publishing and we cannot be held responsible for any changes that may invalidate this article.