A half-century-old divorce law for the division of assets is under scrutiny

The UK government is to commission a major review of 50-year-old legislation governing how financial assets are divided after a divorce in England and Wales.

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 has been criticized for being uncertain and unpredictable, with spouses often turning to costly court cases for lack of clear guidance on the division of assets.

Lord Christopher Bellamy, Minister for Justice, has signaled that he plans to ask the Law Commission, the independent agency that scrutinizes legislation, to consider whether the law needs updating, with further announcements expected “very soon”.

London has become a magnet for wealthy couples seeking a divorce in recent decades, with ex-wives being generously rewarded by the capital’s courts.

Unlike many other European countries, where financial allocations are far less generous and alimony is only given for a limited number of years, the English legal system tends to divide the joint property of the divorcing spouses equally, even if one partner is the breadwinner.

However, under current law, spouses going to court can spend thousands of pounds on fees as legal aid is no longer available for most types of family law and the lengthy court processes can harm children.

Baroness Fiona Shackleton, an experienced and leading divorce lawyer who has represented clients including King Charles, Princess Haya and Paul McCartney, told the House of Lords this month the law is “hopelessly” outdated as it is “entirely based on finance and the discretion of the Judge” based “.

She added, “Divorce practitioners like me make a fortune from arguments because the guidelines are 50 years out of date.”

Prenuptial agreements – legal documents that set out how property is to be divided at the end of the marriage – are now being recognized by the courts after a landmark 2010 Supreme Court hearing involving German paper industry heiress Katrin Radmacher.

However, legal experts believe that these contracts should be placed on a more formal, legal basis and enshrined in law.

German heiress Katrin Radmacher before Britain’s Supreme Court after winning a marriage contract decision in October 2010 © Luke MacGregor/Reuters

Others complain that the legislation later developed through judges’ jurisprudence allows judges to assess each case at their own discretion and make different decisions, creating uncertainty.

Judges are flexible when it comes to assigning settlements, but the disparate rulings made it difficult to advise clients on the likely outcome of their case, lawyers said.

Critics of the current system believe ambiguities in 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 where more clarity is needed, such as z.

Lawyers highlighted regional differences in the way divorce is handled, with London courts tending to be more lenient while many outside the capital prefer to grant “temporary” alimony to financially weaker spouses.

Some argue the law does not reflect how British society has changed over the past 50 years – women are more financially independent and dual earner couples are becoming the norm.

Baroness Ruth Deech, a Crossbench colleague in the House of Lords calling for reform of the 1973 legislation, said: “There is no doubt that the state of the law as it stands is unacceptable.”

She also pointed out that since legal aid has been removed from most family law cases, many lower-income spouses now have to represent themselves in court.

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

The Justice Department declined to comment further.

https://www.ft.com/content/b74c0444-d654-458b-ab3c-99b9fee3d523 A half-century-old divorce law for the division of assets is under scrutiny

Brian Ashcraft

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