Suggest that the UK legal system is out of date when it comes to divorce, and you’re unlikely to raise many eyebrows, with judges regularly making unpredictable decisions on everything from finances to who’s at fault.
It’s part of the reason why mediation is such an important tool, helping all involved parties to reach a mutually agreeable outcome, minimising time and court costs, and helping to maintain as much dignity in divorce as possible.
On May 11th in the House of Lords, the Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill had its second reading, and will now proceed to the Committee stage on its way to being introduced into law.
It seeks to provide more certainty for judges and mediators by clarifying some of the historic grey areas in UK divorce law, as well as modernising certain issues like maintenance awards, so that divorcees are not left paying punitive sums to their former spouse for the rest of their life.
A five-year limit on maintenance awards?
One of the key elements of the Bill is a proposed five-year limit on maintenance awards, so separated couples are not locked into a lifelong financial obligation.
Baroness Deech, who introduced the Bill in the Lords, said: “Provision is made in my Bill for maintenance of up to five years unless there is exceptional hardship.
“Property, pensions and lump sums may provide more efficiently for the support of a woman who cannot or will not work.”
She added that nearly three quarters of mothers now work, compared with around half in 1975, yet the law has not been updated to reflect changes in female education, improved parity on gender pay equality, and better career prospects for women.
This has left London as “the divorce capital of the world”, and the preferred location for court action by “the wives of wealthy men” from all over the world.
Mediation and no-fault divorce
Finally, the Bill could be good news for those who want to divorce amicably, via no-fault separation and with the help of mediators rather than the courts.
“Mediation, not having to go to court and proper information being available must all be better for those concerned,” said Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone in the Lords debate.
Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia added: “The Bill seeks the production of a statutory framework to ensure a far more reliable prediction of outcome.
“This would enable parties to reach an agreement soonest, as their lawyers could advise with confidence on the likely outcome, and the parties would be less likely to ‘roll the dice’.”
A time limit on maintenance awards would be beneficial here too, preventing divorce cases from being brought back to court years later in pursuit of a further financial settlement.
Overall, the Bill recognises that many modern couples are capable of living independently on their own incomes after divorce – while still allowing ongoing financial awards in exceptional circumstances – and if introduced in its current form, would help to give judges, lawyers and mediators alike a clearer road map for divorce proceedings.