Resolution has today written to political party leaders, urging them to prioritise much-needed family justice reforms in their election manifestos.
The letter, signed by National Chair Margaret Heathcote and the Chair of the Family Law Reform Group, Jo Edwards, calls on the three main parties to promise legislation in four key areas, in order to improve the family justice system in England and Wales.
Resolution is calling for all parties to commit to reintroducing legislation on no fault divorce and to protect victims of domestic abuse. In addition, the organisation calls on parties to commit to funding early legal advice, and to provide greater protection for cohabiting couples.
Commenting on the letter, Jo Edwards said:
“The calling of the General Election meant vital, modernising reforms – including the introduction of no fault divorce and protection for victims of domestic abuse – have sadly been lost for now. Given these have overwhelming public support, and official backing from all major parties, it should be a no-brainer for the teams responsible for drafting the party manifestos to include them.
“Coupled with greater protection for cohabiting couples, and better access to early legal advice for all, Resolution hope all parties will get behind our call for fairness for families, and we’ll be working with our members to get this message across to parliamentary candidates between now and the General Election on 12th December.”
The full letter reads:
Dear Mr Johnson, Mr Corbyn and Ms Swinson
We are writing to urge you to include vital family law reforms in your forthcoming General Election manifestos.
Resolution is the national membership body representing 6,500 family justice professionals. Our members work with separating families every day, to support them to resolve disputes as constructively as possible, with a strong focus on putting the best interests of children first.
However, the current legal framework hampers our members’ efforts. Every day we see the impact of the current failings in the family justice system, and are calling on all political parties in England and Wales to support our campaign for Fairness for Families, which focuses on four key areas for reform:
- No Fault Divorce: The current divorce process requires many people to assign blame to their ex-partner on their divorce petition. This is unnecessary and can introduce or exacerbate conflict. The previous Parliament gave overwhelming support to the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, and a YouGov poll earlier this year showed 79% of the population supported reform. We expect to see a commitment to reintroducing this Bill in your manifesto.
- Legal protection for cohabiting couples: Unmarried couples make up one in four families in England and Wales – the fastest growing family type. Nearly half the population mistakenly believes in the myth of ‘common-law marriage’. Many cohabitants are surprised to learn they have no rights to property or maintenance for themselves if the relationship comes to an end. This needs to change. Resolution is calling for cohabiting couples to have at least basic legal protection on relationship breakdown or death of their partner.
- Protecting victims of domestic abuse in the family courts: The previous Domestic Abuse Bill, would have, among other measures, banned the direct cross-examination of domestic abuse victims in family proceedings by alleged perpetrators. We support Women’s Aid in calling for the Bill to go further – but at the very least this Bill should be reintroduced at the earliest possible opportunity.
- Provide early legal advice for separating couples: Since the cuts to Legal Aid in 2013, it has been harder for separating couples to access legal advice. Rather than diverting family cases away from court as was intended, as a consequence of these cuts the number of self-representing litigants has significantly risen, and family mediation numbers have plummeted, placing further pressure on already overstretched family courts. We hope you will commit to increase funding for initial advice and information meetings so families can find out about ways to resolve their disputes at as early a stage as possible.
These proposals are essential for improving the family justice system, reducing unnecessary conflict, and providing necessary protection and support for separating couples – and, more importantly, any children they may have. We hope to see Resolution’s Fairness for Families campaign reflected in your forthcoming manifesto.
Margaret Heathcote, National Chair,
Jo Edwards, Chair, Family Law Reform Group