Divorce reforms would strengthen marriage, says ex-judge

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Nov 21, 2017
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Sir Paul Coleridge said that reforms would force couples to “take stock” before considering divorce

Jeremy Young/The Sunday Times

Divorce law reform is needed to promote the attractiveness of marriage, a former senior judge has said.

Sir Paul Coleridge, chairman of the Marriage Foundation and a High Court judge for 14 years, said that reforming the fault-based laws would not undermine marriage.

In a letter to The Times published today, he hits back at critics of the proposal, saying that the idea is not to make divorce easier.

Current laws enable people to move “with indecent haste” to obtain a divorce within three months, he says, claiming that a reformed system would force couples to “take stock” before entering a lifelong commitment or considering separation. Such a system would promote the “attractiveness of marriage as the norm for parental relationships”, he says.

There is widespread support from judicial figures and the legal profession for reforming the law, which has been condemned as outdated and archaic.

The legislation also brings the legal system into disrepute, it is argued, because it encourages couples to lie and make dishonest allegations to get out of a marriage, fuelling acrimony and causing harm to children.

The Times and the Marriage Foundation are calling for reforms to the law across several fronts: an end to fault-based divorce; an overhaul of divorce settlements that moves away from “meal ticket for life” maintenance; statutory backing for pre-nuptial contracts; more rights for long-term cohabiting couples and civil partnerships for heterosexual couples.

Among senior figures to have backed one or more aspects of the reforms are: Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the former lord chancellor; Baroness Butler-Sloss, the former lord justice of appeal; Baroness Deech, former chairwoman of the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority; Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia, a leading divorce solicitor; and Sir Alan Ward, the former lord justice of appeal.

Lawyers’ groups including Resolution, the 6,000-strong association of family solicitors and advice workers, and the Family Law Bar Association are also calling for reform.

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