According to their website, the Marriage Foundation’s mission is to be a ‘national champion for marriage’. The Foundation was inaugurated by Sir Paul Coleridge in 2012, who had previously worked as a Family Law specialist barrister and a High Court Judge in the Family Court. The current and primary campaign of the Marriage Foundation is to push for a full-scale reform of Divorce and Family Law. Sir Paul Coleridge argued for this reform in a piece for the 7th January 2018 edition of the Sunday Times, which was written as a contributing article to the The Times’s ‘Family Matters’ campaign.
In the Sunday Times article Sir Paul Coleridge explains that the most recent review of Family and Divorce law was around 50 years ago and gave rise to the Divorce Reform Act of 1969 as well as the Matrimonial Proceeding and Property Act of 1970. Since then, despite significant social changes, the laws pertaining to relationship dissolution have remained unaltered. As a consequence, although divorce and separation affect hundreds of thousands of people in the UK every year, the relevant Family Law does not adequately provide for the divorce of married couples or the breakup of cohabiting couples.
Specialising in divorce law, Osbornes looks at the gap in the law when it comes to married couples seeking a divorce and cohabiting couples deciding to separate.
Current Family Law Results In Social Injustice For Cohabiting Couples
Over the past decade, marriage and divorce rates have either stabilised or declined. In contrast, according to Resolution’s website http://www.resolution.org.uk, which represents a group of like-minded family justice professionals, the number of unmarried couples cohabiting has more than doubled from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017. Naturally, this rise in cohabitation rates goes hand in hand with an increase is broken cohabitation relationships. Sir Paul Coleridge argues that this rise in cohabitation, combined with the out-of-date laws pertaining to relationship breakdown has resulted in a ‘profound social injustice’. The reason is that couples with lower incomes are less likely to marry than those in higher income brackets: this means that current Family Law is largely irrelevant to them.
This gap in the law is significant. When legal marriages dissolve, the law allows the courts to divide assets between each partner. However cohabiting couples have little protection in law if their relationship flounders. This is because they are not recognised as a couple from a legal standpoint. This can give rise to difficulties when making claims for a share of the family assets including the family home.
Family Law Causes Divorce To Be More Destructive
In addition to his concerns over cohabiting couples, Sir Paul Coleridge argues that the current divorce process for married couples is too expensive and tends to increase hostility between the partners. This has the result of making legal separation more painful that it need be.
Therefore, Sir Paul Coleridge argues that the current system requires urgent reform to make divorce laws and proceedings relevant to our modern society. He has called for the Government to establish a cross-party commission to review the entirety of Family Law, instead of its perceived current policy of turning a deaf ear to legitimate and qualified concerns. His stance is supported by Resolution, which describes current laws on divorce and separation as barriers to constructive outcomes. The changes required are outlined by the Resolution Manifesto for Family Law and include the development of a family justice system that provides support during a relationship breakdown, puts children first, protects couples who cohabit and allows no-fault divorce. Changes such as these would provide a justice system that is suitable for modern families and couples, both married and co-habiting.
Family Law In 2018
The coming year will see the retirement of Sir James Lawrence Munby, the current President of the Family Division of the High Court of England and Wales. Sir James Munby, who held the Presidency from 2013 is quoted as heading up ‘the largest reform of the family justice system any of us have seen or will see in our professional lifetimes’ including changes that allowed family court hearings to be held in public. The inauguration of new President to the Family Division could certainly lead to interesting developments in Family Law in 2018.
In addition to this leadership change in the Family Division, the UK’s own divorce from the EU is fast approaching. From a political perspective Brexit is proving to be challenging and uncertain. However, from a legal standpoint, although Brexit’s complexity will certainly present challenges to the UK legal system, it could also present opportunities for improvement and modernisation in areas such as Family Law.
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