Are changes afoot in Family Law?
In his recent address: The 17th View from the President’s chambers, Sir James Munby President of the Family Division underlined two clear points.
Firstly that we must not expect any change in Family Law any time soon -even after the renewed support for a no fault divorce following the case of Owens v Owens (2017) where the appeal judge upheld the initial ruling where the petition was refused. Changing this law requires primary legislation which is not on the cards.
For us Family Mediators – we have always emphasised to clients that the petition needs to be presented in line within the current legal boundaries. We have however been reminded of the importance of this. How much better it can be for the divorcing couple to jointly put forward proposals for the reasons presented on the petition and crucially to come to a joint intention that the petition is not defended.
His second clear message was his emphatic support for separating the two processes which deal with divorce and finances. He wishes to move the project on which is currently developing a separate system for processing divorce applications online, and taking this process out of the court system. The judges time will then be spent on hearing the cases in which there is a financial claim following divorce as well as under other legislation (TOLATA, Schedule 1 Children Act for example).
Many clients often have no idea about the difference between the divorce and the money matters. However there is also a danger many couples will hear the message that they can get divorced online, but may not realise how many loose ends they might leave if they do not secure a financial order. This is something we as mediators always spell out, and even for the most amicable couple, a structured and informed mediation will make sure this is done properly, albeit without contentious litigation.