Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill [HL] Debate

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Baroness Watkins of Tavistock

Main Page: Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (Crossbench - Life peer)

Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill [HL]

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Excerpts
2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Friday 27th January 2017

(7 years, 2 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill [HL] 2016-17 View all Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill [HL] 2016-17 Debates Read Hansard Text
Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB)
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My Lords, I support the Bill brought forward by my noble friend Lady Deech.

It is important to remember that no one enters a marriage expecting to get divorced. At the time of marriage most people are deeply in love, and the last thing on their mind is how to settle the division of assets during the emotionally charged process of a divorce. Therefore, to encourage pre-nuptial settlements seems an eminently sensible idea. Other noble Lords have outlined some of the challenges experienced by couples when trying to reach fair and just financial settlements for both parties. This is particularly difficult when one party does not wish to get divorced.

We now have non-binding Guidance on “Financial Needs” on Divorce, which was published in June 2016, but it remains complicated. My noble friend Lady Deech has argued that we have largely judge-made law, with the exercise of wide judicial discretion, which, though careful and sensitive, leads to unpredictability and uncertainty and often militates against mediation and out-of-court settlements. Legal aid is no longer available for this area of law and many parties, particularly those of lower means, are often left unrepresented, with no straightforward set of principles to assist them in dividing assets and income. This frequently results in long, drawn-out procedures, which are certainly costly in emotional terms, and which in turn can result in stress, not only for the two parties involved in the divorce but for any children who are involved, particularly if for financial reasons their two parents still have to live under the same roof. It should be noted that many organisations, including the Centre for Social Justice, have made the case for reform.

David Davis recently said in the other House in relation to the Brexit process—a form of divorce—that information to be provided in new legislation should be “straightforward”. The Bill has just that merit: the man or woman in the street could easily understand the principles it contains. Many noble and learned Lords have spoken in this debate. I, of course, have no experience of the law but understand the aims of the Bill. To continue for a moment with the Brexit theme, the four nations of the UK will need to work more closely together, while maintaining their national identities and delegated powers. I have been involved in two company mergers, one in the NHS and the other in a housing association, and the principle of taking the best from each party to build the new organisations was adopted by both boards. In each case, this was successful. The Bill relies on the proven efficacy of Scottish jurisdiction, which would administer a simpler and more certain law in England and Wales—indeed, it has been described as a gem. I believe that adopting the Bill, which is largely modelled on Scottish legislation, to provide similar certainty in all marriages and civil partnerships in England and Wales would lead to advantages and be a positive benefit.

If the Bill is passed, it is likely to shorten the period of negotiation relating to financial matters during any divorce and result more quickly in stability for the families involved. It will reduce lengthy bitter discussions about the division of wealth and provide a swifter, straightforward approach to the financial division of assets in divorce. It may well also reduce some of the harmful effects of prolonged exposure to parental disharmony that some children experience—it will be no surprise to noble Lords that there is evidence that prolonged periods of parental argument can be extremely detrimental to children’s mental health. I would hope that that would, in turn, reduce at least some of the anxiety and depression in young people in families where divorce is occurring. I therefore see nothing but merit in the Bill, the principles of which I fully support.