Divorce bill set to divide the Lords

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Tory peer Baroness Young, the leading opponent of the controversial Family Law Bill, will today throw down a fresh gauntlet to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, with a series of amendments tabled last night to promote reconciliation and the welfare of children.

In a high-profile televised launch of the amendments in the House of Lords, Lady Young, an ex-minister and former Conservative party vice-chairman, will strongly argue for a six-month period for couples to attempt a reconciliation before the 12-month period of "reflection and consideration" to obtain a divorce begins to run.

During that time, which could be activated by a spouse who did not want a divorce, the intervention of lawyers or mediation to solve disputes over finances and the care of children would be put on hold. "It would be a litigation-free zone," a Lords' source said last night.

Lady Young is prepared to accept that in cases where there are no children, if the reconciliation does not work the couple should be granted a divorce after 12 months in total. But Lady Young is said to be privately incensed that Lord Mackay has taken relatively little notice of her efforts to amend the Bill, and may press this amendment to a division when the measure returns for its report stage on Thursday.

The Bill as it stands provides for the 12 month period to be extended by a further six months if couples cannot reach agreement over children and financial matters. A Government amendment from Lord Mackay would extend the six months to 12. But the Bill's critics claim this is "cosmetic".

Lady Young plans to promote a clause giving a court discretion to withhold a divorce, for a length of time judged to be appropriate, where it would cause harm to children. She will also reintroduce her earlier amendments to bring back the right to allege fault, which are designed to come to the aid of (normally) a wife who has been "traded in for a younger model".