The half-century-old divorce law on division of assets is ready for revision


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The UK government is set to undertake a wide-ranging review of the 50-year-old legislation that sets out how financial assets are divided after divorce in England and Wales.

The Matrimonial Cases Act 1973 has been criticized as uncertain and unpredictable with couples often resorting to costly litigation due to the lack of clear guidance on how wealth should be divided.

Lord Christopher Bellamy, Minister for Justice, has pointed out He plans to ask the Law Commission, the independent agency that reviews legislation, to examine whether the law needs an update, with more announcements expected “very soon”.

London has become a magnet for wealthy couples seeking divorce in recent decades due to the generous financial awards granted by the courts in the capital to ex-wives.

The English legal system tends to divide the combined wealth of divorced spouses equally even if one partner is the breadwinner, in contrast to many other European countries, where monetary compensation is much less generous and alimony is awarded only for a limited number of years.

However, under current law couples who go to court can spend thousands of pounds on fees because legal aid is no longer available for most types of family law, and drawn-out court battles can be harmful to children.

Baroness Fiona Shackleton, a leading divorce lawyer who has represented clients including King Charles, Princess Haya and Paul McCartney, told the House of Lords this month that the law was “hopelessly outdated” because it depended “totally on funding and judges’ discretion”. “.

She added: “Divorce practitioners like myself make a fortune on the argument, because the guidelines are 50 years old.”

Prenuptial agreements — the legal documents that set out how assets are divided when a marriage ends — are now recognized by the courts after a Supreme Court decision in 2010 that included German paper industry heiress Katrin Radmacher.

But legal experts believe that these contracts should be drawn up on more formal legal grounds and enshrined in law.

German heiress Katrin Radmacher outside Britain’s High Court after winning a prenuptial agreement decision in October 2010 © Luke MacGregor / Reuters

Others complain that the legislation, which was later developed through judge case law, allows judges to use their discretion to evaluate each case and issue different rulings, which creates uncertainty.

Judges are flexible when it comes to allocating settlements, but the difference in judgment, lawyers say, makes it difficult to advise clients on the likely outcome of their cases.

Critics of the current system believe that ambiguities in the legislation should be addressed.

Jo Edwards, chair of the Family Law Reform Group for Resolution, which represents family justice professionals, said: “There are undoubtedly areas that need more clarity such as spousal support payments – whether any should be paid and, if so, how much. And how.” long.”

Lawyers highlighted regional differences in how divorces are settled, with London courts tending to hand out more generous rulings, while many outside the capital favored giving “time-limited” maintenance to financially weaker couples.

Some argue that the law fails to reflect the way British society has changed in the past 50 years – with women becoming more financially independent and dual-income couples becoming the norm.

Baroness Ruth Deitch, a House of Lords MP who advocates for a reform of the 1973 legislation, said: “There can be no doubt that the state of the existing law is unacceptable.”

She also noted that many low-income couples now have to represent themselves in court, as legal aid has been removed from most family law cases.

She told the House of Lords this month that the current law “lags 50 years behind almost every other country in the Western world, including Australia”.

The Justice Department declined to comment further.


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