Why divorcing couples and families need to find alternatives

  • Learn about how divorce proceedings work now and why there is demand for reform.
  • Understand some of the options available to divorcing couples that may ease the process.
  • Consider what role advisers can play in mediated divorces.

The Supreme Court is considering whether businessman Mr Mills should have to increase maintenance payments to his wife 16 years after they divorced or whether settlements should have a time limit.

This case has arisen as, two years ago, Mr Mills applied to court to end the payments and his ex-wife put in an appeal to increase the sum as she claimed she could no longer meet her basic needs with the amount previously ordered.

Ultimately, the judge agreed that the monthly payment was no longer meeting the ex-wife’s needs and should be increased to £1,440 a month.

Many are hoping that this case provides some much- needed clarity around how long a spouse should pay maintenance, balancing the need to separate financial ties against the need to avoid undue hardship on either side.

Other progress is being made with the development of an online divorce process. Sir James Munby, president of the High Court’s family division, has predicted that in time most divorce cases will leave the court rooms and be dealt with online.

After the pilot scheme was dubbed a “triumphant success”, the process has been rolled out nationwide. 

However, this is only the process for securing a divorce, namely changing the couple’s legal status from married to divorced. It will not deal with the much more complex issue of dividing up financial resources or making arrangements for any children of the marriage. 

These two important cases, and the development of the online court system, suggest that change is beginning to happen.

The system is being tested by new pressures of modern day family life, and the government is going to have to reform divorce law to cope with the evolving family dynamic.

However, many governments have been and gone without this issue being tackled, and there are many couples who need practical, cost effective help right now.  

In my experience, our adversarial legal system works very well for corporates and companies, but for families in crisis it can be a nightmare.

As a divorce barrister I have first-hand experience of how difficult our adversarial process can be for the families within it. 

Thankfully, there are a few other options available.

Mediation is one – and since 2013 couples have been actively encouraged to consider this as an alternative.

A new law meant that couples now have to attend an initial information and assessment session to see whether it would be better for them to use mediation than to get embroiled in a legal battle over dividing property and agreeing child custody arrangements.