Blame-free divorce should be one of several new reforms to the law, a leading organisation has urged.
Resolution, which represents lawyers and professionals dealing with divorce, say families have changed while laws have not.
In a manifesto aimed at influencing parties in the run-up to the general election, Resolution has called on politicians to tackle problems that successive governments have neglected to resolve.
The report highlights the areas where it says laws affecting how couples separate are “unmodern”.
Unless these areas are looked at, parting couples consequently cannot focus on the needs of any children they have, Resolution warns. According to the latest official statistics, there are about 118,000 divorces each year. Nearly half of those divorcing have at least one child under 16; the most common age for divorce is 44.
Launching the manifesto, Jo Edwards, a solicitor and Resolution’s chair, said: “The fact is that despite the family justice system going through a period of huge transformation in recent years – not least with the devastating cuts to legal aid – the laws governing it are woefully outdated, inadequate and unfair to many people.
“Divorce without blame was actually provided for in the 1996 Family Law Act, but was never enacted and actually repealed last year.
“We still have this charade of having to assign blame [adultery or unreasonable behaviour] if you want a divorce and haven’t been separated for at least two years – even if both spouses agree their marriage is at an end.
“This is a huge barrier to amicable dispute resolution and unnecessarily introduces conflict into the process. There have been repeated calls for no-fault divorce from the judiciary and policy makers. Whilst families have changed, our laws have not.”
The other priorities, identified by Resolution, are providing free initial advice to those separating so they can discuss options with professionals; making mediation more widely available to enable couples to avoid court; introducing a ‘Parenting Charter’ to help parents understand their responsibilities when they separate; and giving greater financial information for those entering into divorce.
The removal of legal aid from family law cases has led to a rise in unrepresented litigants. According to Resolution, more than 50,000 people representing themselves in family disputes in 2013.