The UK government is set to carry out a comprehensive review of the 50-year-old law that determines how financial assets are divided after divorce in England and Wales.
The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 has been criticized as vague and unpredictable in that it lacks clear guidance on how to divide assets, often leading spouses to resort to costly litigation.
Lord Christopher Bellamy, Minister for Justice, indicated It plans to ask the Law Commission, an independent agency that reviews the law, whether the act needs to be updated “very soon” with more disclosures expected.
London has become a magnet for wealthy couples seeking divorce in recent decades thanks to the generous financial awards given to ex-wives by the capital’s courts.
The English legal system divides the joint assets of divorcing spouses equally, even if one partner is the earner, compared to other European countries, where financial awards are far less generous and maintenance is awarded for only a limited number of years.
However, under current law, spouses who go to court can spend thousands of pounds on fees because legal aid is no longer available for most family law cases, and court battles can be detrimental to children.
Baroness Fiona Shackleton, a peer and leading divorce lawyer who has represented clients including King Charles, Princess Haya and Paul McCartney, told the House of Lords this month that the law was “disappointingly” outdated because it “relies entirely on finance and the discretion of judges”. “
She added: “Divorce practitioners like me are lucky to argue, because the guidelines are 50 years old.”
Prenuptial agreements – legal documents specifying how assets are to be divided when a marriage ends – are now recognized by the courts after a seminal 2010 Supreme Court ruling involving German paper industry heiress Katrin Rademacher.
But legal experts believe that these agreements should be more formal, with statutory footings and enshrined in law.
Others complain the law, which later developed through judge-made case law, allows judges to use their discretion to evaluate each case and make different awards, creating uncertainty.
Lawyers said judges have flexibility when it comes to allocating settlements, but the variance in rulings made it difficult to advise clients about the likely outcome of their cases.
Critics of the current system believe that the ambiguity in the law should be removed.
Joe Edwards, chair of the family law reform group for Resolution, which represents family justice professionals, said: “There are undoubtedly areas that need more clarity such as spousal maintenance payments – whether any should be paid and if so , how much and how. long.”
Lawyers highlight regional variations in how divorces are settled, with London courts tending to award more generously, while many outside the capital choose to award “time-limited” maintenance to financially weaker spouses.
Some argue that the law fails to reflect the way British society has changed over the past 50 years – with women becoming more financially independent and dual-earner couples becoming the norm.
Baroness Ruth Dyche, a crossbench peer in the House of Lords who is calling for an amendment to the 1973 law, said: “There is no doubt that the state of the law as it stands is unacceptable.”
She also pointed out that many low-income spouses now have to represent themselves in court, since legal aid has been removed from most family law cases.
She told the House of Lords this month that the current law was “50 years behind almost every other country in the Western world, including Australia”.
The Ministry of Justice declined to comment further.