Mackay in move to let children block divorces

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Children would be given a say on whether their parents could go ahead with a contested divorce under government amendments to the Family Law Bill due to be unveiled this week by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.

Judges would be able to take account of views expressed by children in cases where a spouse argued that the divorce would cause "substantial financial or other hardship."

In a concession to Tory rebels, who plan to challenge the proposals when his bill goes to the Commons later in the year, Lord Mackay has agreed to make limited changes.

Under present legislation, spouses who claim successfully that they would suffer "grave" hardship as a result of a divorce, can use that to argue against a contested divorce going ahead. Lord Mackay is proposing to change that wording to talk of "substantial" hardship, which lawyers believe would apply to more cases. But under the planned amendment, the assessment of hardship would cover children as well as the spouse and may include a welfare report in which the children's views would be canvassed.

Children expressing opposition to the divorce would not normally appear in court.

Lord Mackay, who has come under consistent pressure from "moral majority" Tories, is also expected to include a statement of principles making it clear that the intention is to support the institution of marriage. But he will add that in the event of irretrievable breakdown, the minimum of distress should be caused.

The Family Law Bill is intended to end the concept of fault in divorce - eliminating "quickie" divorces - and to give couples a year-long cooling off period before a divorce is enacted. Another amendment would provide for more time in cases where it was needed to reach agreement on children and property.

The new moves are likely to please leaders of the potential rebels, who include two former Cabinet ministers, John Redwood and John Patten. They are expected to be less impressed by Lord Mackay's decision not to amend the bill to entitle divorced women to a share of their ex-husband's pensions.

Lord Mackay is expected to announce his new amendments in the Lords on Thursday.