October 18, 2013

Calling Time on Dinosaur Divorce Laws: Why Coleridge is right

Current divorce laws are “dinosaurs” and dead as Monty Python’s mythical parrot, according to Sir Paul Coleridge, who has stepped down as a full-time family law judge.

As he announced his departure to spend more time on his charity The Marriage Foundation, Sir Paul called for an overhaul of outdated divorce laws and an end to the “bloodshed, time and cost” of court.

I welcome the news that Sir Paul plans to spend time maximising his high profile and his charity to “explore and push” out-of-court alternatives to litigation.

Never one to shirk from speaking his mind, Sir Paul told a conference in London that the “days of gladiatorial wars of titans” are over and that complex divorce cases should be solved in a more “sophisticated and modern way”.

As a pioneer of mediation, collaborative family law and now arbitration, I wholeheartedly agree that we must continue to raise awareness about non-court solutions- particularly as the demise of Legal Aid has left many divorcing couples with no entitlement to financial support for divorce and residence hearings.  If we are to support and advise couples through the challenges of a marriage break-up then Sir Paul is absolutely right when he says that the private sector must pioneer alternatives and pave the way for change.

Mediation, collaboration and arbitration all offer viable, less stressful alternatives to the court process. While there will always be some people who opt to litigate, I am confident that we are seeing a cultural shift away from litigation with people becoming more socially aware of the benefits of non-confrontational approaches to divorce. Government too, particularly the Treasury, is driving the shift away from litigation. However Sir Paul is correct when he says that current divorce laws are no longer fit for purpose and need to change if we are truly to develop more innovative alternatives.  The reduction of the emotional stress and financial cost of courts can only benefit clients and more particularly any children.

I will watch with interest to see if Sir Paul and his Marriage Foundation can galvanise the support needed to bring about changes to English divorce laws – the charity is holding a high profile conference in December which may be a catalyst.  Can our antiquated laws be “humanely killed off” with a lead from the private sector, as Sir Paul would like to see?

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