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The Face of Divorce Law Is Changing

In recent years, the prevalence of divorce and the fascination surrounding high-profile cases have been at the centre of various news reports and court hearings.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has revealed that approximately 42% of marriages in England and Wales end in divorce, and numerous factors are considered to play a part in the demise of a marriage. The length of the marriage, the year the couple married, the age at which the couple married and whether they have been married before are all factors expected to play a crucial role in the likelihood that the marriage will end in divorce.

30 November 2015
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Positive Perspective

Despite this seemingly negative picture, the divorce rate has actually been stable since 2008 and it was, in fact, the 1990s that the divorce rate in England and Wales peaked with 14 per thousand people divorcing within the marriage population.

It is important, however, that when a couple decides to divorce, the emphasis is placed on the avoidance of ongoing and bitter disputes that delay the complete process for the courts, arbitrators and individuals themselves.

High Profile Cases

The media has attached great significance to high-profile divorces that have caught endless headlines. These often involve celebrities and people of interest that engage in a battle over hundreds of thousands or millions of pounds. It is unsurprising that high-profile cases not only involve large sums of money but also produce soaring legal bills.

According to the media, it has seemingly become the norm for divorce cases to go on for several years, racking up huge legal bills, slowing down the court process and exaggerating the sometimes already fraught, uncomfortable and bitter relationship between the parties involved.

Legal Aid

Legal aid is used to help individuals face the cost of legal advice, family mediation and court or tribunal representation.

In 2013, as the legal aid bill stood at a staggering £2 billion per year in England and Wales, the UK government decided to cut the amount of legal aid offered in civil proceedings in a bid to reduce this figure by £350 million per annum. The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act came into force in April 2013 with the aim of targeting resources at those people most in need of support in paying for legal costs.

With these cuts fresh in the minds of solicitors and the courts, it is unlikely that parties in cases that prolong beyond the average divorce timescale of three to five months will be able to receive legal aid for mounting legal bills.  

Landmark Case

This has been demonstrated in a recent landmark case, where a wife has been banned from making any future claims for maintenance payments and spousal support against her husband.

The wife, Vivien Welch, who is a member of the Michelle Young Foundation, which assists wives in gaining large sums of money from wealthy husbands, was told that her “obsessive and unjustified” ongoing pursuit of money must now come to an end and she has been banned from making any further claims against him for two years.

As Welch was receiving benefits and indicated that she would be unable to pay for growing legal bills, the judge, Justin Holman, ruled that the “the bitter and intense litigation must be closed”.

In further comments, the judge also stated that the reduction of legal aid poses a disadvantage to individuals unable to pay high legal bills and who would benefit from objective legal advice.

This ruling suggests that other judgements may also include banning orders of a similar nature to curtail the amount of time and costs incurred by ongoing divorce disputes.

For more information on divorce lawcontact our dedicated law team today.