The government is a big fan of mediation. Despite removing large chunks of civil law from the scope of public funding, it retained legal aid for facilitating mediation. Yet, when it comes to divorce, it won't do the one thing that would make splitting up less traumatic than it needs to be.
The Supreme Court's reluctant decision that Tini Owens must remain married to her husband has unsurprisingly renewed widespread calls for parliament to introduce 'no-fault' divorce provisions.
Julian Ribert, a partner at London firm Levison Meltzer Pigott, says today's decision 'is unfortunately going to mean that solicitors feel that they must advise their clients to draft a stronger divorce petition which is in clear and unequivocal terms and which sets out why the behaviour of the other party is so unacceptable as to mean that one party cannot reasonably be expected to live with the other'.
This will please no one, Ribert says. 'The stronger and more controversial the allegations are the more likely they are to inflame matters at the outset thereby making it harder for the parties to interact properly with each other as a separating family and making the settlement of financial and children related issues even more difficult.'
Marilyn Bell, partner and head of the family department at SA Law, says solicitors may need to draft 'far more detailed examples' of unreasonable behaviour, 'which will inflame matters right at the outset'.
Hazel Wright, a partner in the family department at Lincoln's Inn firm Hunters Solicitors, says the prospect now is grim: 'To obtain a divorce parties will be forced to make vigorous allegations against each other which will entrench division which can help no one, least of all children. For years, family law practitioners and the courts have agreed to interpret the legislation in such a way as to avoid its worst effects, but this is no longer possible.'
Alexandra Bishop, an associate in the family and divorce law team at London firm Kingsley Napley, says family lawyers 'should not have to "beef up" particulars in divorce petitions in order to satisfy the statutory requirements to get divorces off the ground'.
Family law group Resolution is urging politicians to support legislation proposed by Baroness Butler-Sloss committing the lord chancellor to review current legislation. Resolution chair Margaret Heathcote says: 'Conflict has been proven to have a negative effect on both divorcing couples and their children. Each day the government fails to act creates unnecessary conflict for hundreds more families at a time that is already extremely emotional and traumatising for them.'
Breaking up is hard to do. Politicians have a duty not to make it harder.