A recent report from the Centre for Social Justice focused on family law. On 16th July 2009 I started a thread on Wikivorce asking members what they would change if they could.
Among the responses was that divorcing couples should face a compulsory cooling off period; that mediation should be mandatory, save where there are issues of domestic violence; that counselling should be considered; that information should be made available as to the impact of divorce on the children and that no party should be able to apply for the decree absolute until financial matters are resolved.
It seems our membership was thinking along the same lines as the Centre for Social Justice who, around the same time, published its report “Every Family Matters”, with very similar recommendations.
The Centre for Social Justice is a think-tank set up by former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, and has an impact on both Conservative and Labour policy. The report, authored by The Family Law Review (a body of leading family lawyers and academics) recommends a three month cooling off period of reflection and consideration, pre -divorce counselling, and information to be made available on the implications of divorce.
The report states:
“The cooling off period and the requirement for estranged couples to receive information about the implications of divorce will help to save some worthwhile marriages. This is based on the highly successful Australian system which is accepted by most as a genuine aid to family stability.”
On pre-divorce counselling, the report says: “Before any proceedings in family law can be commenced, with certain exceptions (such as domestic violence), the applicant must have obtained, received, attended at or in other ways have had the opportunity to consider certain information.
This would include reconciliation opportunities and resources, alternative dispute resolution (settlements reached out of court), impact on children, costs and court procedures…A certificate of attendance would be required before proceedings could be issued.”
The report also recommends improvements to the circumstances in which either party may prevent the granting of the final decree until the final financial settlement and its implementation, and recommends that parties should be able to petition jointly.
In a hugely bold move, it rejects the oft called for elimination of fault from divorce proceedings, making the case for the retention of a fault provision during divorce proceedings. The report states:
“While in very many marriage breakdowns there is fault on both sides, there are some where fault lies wholly or very substantially with one spouse alone and it would be wrong in these cases for there not to be any fault basis.”
It is heartening that our membership is thinking along the same lines as this very influential think tank. Now we simply have to hope that the next government takes note, adopts the recommendations, and ultimately finds time in the parliamentary calendar for law reform.