Ministers want family values in divorce law

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The Independent Online
LORD MACKAY, the Lord Chancellor, is having to redraft his Green Paper on divorce after complaints from Cabinet colleagues that its proposed reforms were out of keeping with Conservative 'family values'.

The Lord Chancellor's proposals broadly reflected recommendations from the Law Commission and would have allowed couples a 'no fault' divorce for all couples after a wait of 12 months.

He was urged by a number of ministers, including John Patten, Secretary of State for Education and John Redwood, Secretary of State for Wales, to amend a draft of the paper at a Cabinet commitee meeting on 30 September, just before the Tory conference, at which Cabinet ministers pledged the party to stand by its belief in 'family values'.

Some ministers, including Mr Redwood, argued that the delay should be retained at two years and others, including Mr Patten, that fault - like adultery or unreasonable behaviour - should continue to play a part in divorce law. The Law Commission proposed that the only grounds for divorce should be irretrievable breakdown.

Supporters of the commission recommendations argue that they would not make divorce easier, especially since the Law Commision recommendation would have ended 'quickie' divorces on the grounds of fault. Instead they would be reducing the cost and the emotional stress flowing from recourse to the courts in cases where maritable breakdown is irrevocable. Lord Mackay has been especially anxious to protect children from the impact of bitterly contested divorces.

Ministerial critics supported the idea of keeping lawyers out of the process where possible. But they were strongly against reducing the current minimum wait of two years in no fault cases to one.

The Green Paper, to be published before the end of the year, will propose a mediation service which could refer couples to conciliation, or in cases where the marriage cannot be saved, would help to settle custody and property divisions without recourse to the courts. The changes will also reduce the mounting legal aid bill.

One issue to be resolved is whether the mediation services envisaged should be funded publicly or paid for by the separating couple. Although the issue may be left open in the Green Paper, it is likely that all but the poorest couples will have to contribute.

Leading article, letters, page 17