Family law system fuels acrimony and needs radical overhaul to bring it up to date for 21st century

10 Mar 2007

At its national conference in Manchester – Resolution, the organisation representing nearly 5,000 family lawyers, today hit back at recent suggestions that lawyers are to blame for the low levels of divorcing couples who choose to settle their disputes via mediation.

“It is far too easy to suggest that cases end up in court only because lawyers want to earn the fattest fees possible. In reality family lawyers are working within a family law system that fuels acrimony and is severely in need of overhaul.

“Under current law anyone wanting an immediate divorce has to prove ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or adultery on the part of their husband and wife. This ‘blame culture’ of unreasonable behaviour introduces a degree of discord and unpleasantness into divorce proceedings from their very inception.

“Resolution strongly supported the introduction of ‘no-fault divorce’ when it was included in the 1996 Family Law Act – only to see the provisions dealing with no-fault divorce languish and be finally shelved indefinitely by the present government.

“The uncertainty created by a number of high profile and sometimes contradictory judgements around financial settlements, has introduced a large degree of ambiguity into what divorcing couples can expect to pay and receive. There is much for divorcing couples to argue for.

“If the government is serious about promoting amicable settlements through mediation and streamlined courts, it should commit to undertaking a thorough review of family law to deal with these issues.

“Such a review could at the same time bring family law up to date with the myriad forms that family takes in today’s society, by dealing with the rights of couples who live together as well as reviewing the position in respect of pre-nuptial agreements,” said Jane McCulloch who was newly elected as Chair of Resolution at the conference.

From Resolution’s inception twenty five years ago its members have pioneered a non-adversarial approach to family law. Resolution’s members undertake to abide by a code of practice which promotes a constructive approach to family law aimed at minimising conflict.

The organisation pioneered the use of mediation in resolving family disputes and is now leading the way in the introduction of collaborative law – an entirely new approach – akin to mediation in that it aims to keep agreements out of the courts – but unlike mediation couples using a collaborative law approach are accompanied throughout the process by their own solicitors. Research has shown that in the very emotional time of family breakdown, most people need the reassurance of having someone – their lawyer – on their side.

Resolution has now trained over 700 lawyers in this specialist approach and is disappointed that it is not currently possible for people to choose to use collaborative law to resolve their disputes under the legal aid system.

“If the government is seriously committed to keeping family disputes out of the courts they should do much more to support the development of alternative approaches like collaborative law.

“It is vital that divorcing couples are advised about and have access to as many options as possible – they should be able to choose the best approach for their particular set of circumstances – having their solicitor by their side in collaborative negotiations with their partner – may be a more comfortable and appropriate experience for many.”

“Ultimately there is an urgent need for the government to ensure that family law is brought up to date with the needs of 21st century families,” said Jane McCulloch.

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact:
Teresa Richardson
Head of Communications
Resolution - first for family law
Mobile: 07894 981 020