A Newport-based lawyer is calling for crucial divorce law reform, after figures released last week revealed the “harrowing impact” of family conflict on children.
Sophie Hughes, Partner at award-winning firm Watkins & Gunn made the calls as part of national Good Divorce Week, led by Resolution.
Ms Hughes, who is South Wales Chair for the organisation, is calling for a fairer family justice system that will reduce the emotional and academic consequences of divorce on children.
The organisation’s new YouGov poll revealed that 79% of the population agreed conflict from divorce or separation can affect negatively children’s mental health, a figure rising to 87% among those who experienced their parents’ divorce as children.
Worryingly, 77% said conflict could affect children’s academic performance and a further two-thirds felt social interactions and the ability to form healthy romantic relationships were also jeopardised.
With 200,000 people divorcing each year across England and Wales, an overwhelming 79% of the public support measures that would remove blame from the divorce process, with 71% believing change is urgently needed to reduce the negative impact on children.
Ms Hughes explained that while most parents she works with want to keep a child’s best interest at the forefront, the current fault-based divorce system can cause complications.
The family law expert said:
“The harrowing, heart-breaking impact of parental separation and divorce is well documented, but this latest research demonstrates how we must act now in order to minimise fallout from divorce.
“I’ve worked with many families to help resolve their issues in a way that is fair to everyone, with many parents desperate to protect their children from further stress. Unfortunately, even the most amicable breakup can become a challenge.
“The requirement to apportion blame for the breakdown of the marriage can create unnecessarily conflict that can threaten the entire process and result in further distress for the entire family.
“Sadly, a couple cannot cite irreconcilable differences as the cause for divorce. Currently, unless a couple can prove they’ve been separated for 2 years with consent or 5 years without, the only way to get a divorce is to attribute blame. Around 60% of divorces in England and Wales are based on fault, compared with only 6-7% in Scotland where the law is different.
“The current law can make it extremely difficult to reduce conflict between exes, and I am proud to have been working with Resolution to campaign against the need for blame and create fairer justice systems for families who are all simply trying to adjust to a new normal.”