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Divorce law reforms

The current divorce law arrangements in the UK have been brought under criticism with the Law Commission noting that the judiciary believe that the current law is ‘incomplete and uninformative’ and that they receive no guidance on how to divide couples’ assets.

The body which recommends legal reforms in England and Wales has stated that more needs to be done to define the objectives of cash settlements as there is currently confusion as to whether spouses are being compensated for sacrifices made during the marriage or encouraged to achieve independence.

The Law Commission has suggested the proposal of a ‘divorce formula’ to determine how former spouses should divide their fortunes. If the proposal is put into effect then it would end the long-standing presumption that former partners should share their marriage proceeds equally. The new recommendation will allow the divorcees to keep property and cash that they owned prior to the marriage.

A number of judges have complained that they receive no satisfactory guidance on whether to divide a couples assets equally or in accordance with each spouses needs. The current arrangement underpins the lack of clarity that judges face during court settlements and this is further heightened by the fact that the divorce laws have not been changed since their liberalisation in 1969.

The consultation paper itself identifies a number of possible objectives that judges should consider during divorce settlements. One of the suggestions is for the courts to compensate the needs of the less well-off spouse, so that they can attain the living standard that would have been achieved during marriage.

The recommendations for reform are not likely to be finalised until 2013 as further research and consultations are expected before an outcome is reached.