In April 2019, I reached a milestone after having worked in the law for three decades to be appointed head of the Private Family Law Team at TBI.
It turned my mind to thinking how the law itself has changed in my specialist field of matrimonial and family law over this time, although it will be nowhere near as different to the law in 1842 when TBI was established as a business.
I wonder how the founding members would view today’s family law landscape and in particular the current divorce system.
Divorce proceedings are currently governed by law made in 1973 when attitudes to divorce were much different to now. It was very much the “blame game”, but over time that has softened even though we are still governed by the same 1973 law. Undefended divorces are generally dealt with on paper and rarely is an attendance required at court.
In 1995, Parliament considered changing the rules on petitions and make them on a no fault basis, but the legislation was abandoned.
In 2018, a defended divorce case (which are rare) hit the headlines because the wife relied on the fact of her husband’s alleged behaviour in her divorce petition. However, the Supreme Court upheld the husband’s case. It means that the wife has to remain married to her estranged husband for a few more years before she can rely on the fact that the parties will have been separated for over five years.
This case and the ensuing press coverage, has resulted in Parliament being asked to consider legislating on a “no fault” divorce system which will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows, so it is not with immediate effect but certainly I believe a it will eventually be made law.
Some will argue that will make divorcing easier. In my experience it will not because for most parties separating is an emotionally difficult time. At the end of the day, a party is making a decision to end a marriage (or indeed a relationship) and it is a highly stressful and anxious period.
If issuing a divorce petition without pointing the finger at the other party can ease the acrimony that can result from a party being blamed for their behaviour, then that has to be beneficial particularly for children of the family.
l Wendy Beacom is head of the Private Family Law Team and can meet with clients at any of TBI’s four offices as well as further afield.