Baroness Deech’s controversial Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill was re-introduced to the House of Lords on 19 July 2021. A date for its second reading has yet to be set. The controversial Bill has been around in various forms for many years and seeks to provide greater certainty in relation to the financial outcomes of divorce in three key areas by:
- Limiting the court’s powers to make orders in relation to non-matrimonial property, (i.e. property or assets that parties bring to a marriage or which they inherit or receive by way of gift during it), so that orders only relate to matrimonial property
- Proposing that pre-nuptial and nuptial agreements should be considered binding as long as certain basic criteria are met at the point that they are signed
- Limiting spousal maintenance payments to a term of no more than five years
The Bill has, and continues, to cause concern amongst family law practitioners who worry that the removal of discretion in these key areas could lead to outcomes that would be considered unfair. Every family’s circumstances are unique; the discretion that the court currently has allows orders to be tailored to meet those individual circumstances. There may be compelling reasons why, for example, spousal maintenance should be paid for more than five years, e.g. where one spouse is unable to work, or perhaps where one has caring responsibilities for a disabled child. The degree of prescription in the new Bill will significantly reduce the court’s current ability to adapt an outcome to the specific needs of a family. Supporters of the Bill, however, point to greater clarity of outcome and the benefits that that could bring for many.
Forthcoming debates upon the amended Bill will be listened to with interest.