A look at selected political party manifestos from the family law angle

Tony Roe, Partner & Family Law Arbitrator, Dexter Montague LLP takes a look at family law issues for the next UK Government

What do the various political party manifestos hold when it comes to family law issues?

At its conference in October 2023, Shadow Attorney General, Emily Thornberry, announced that a Labour government would reform the law for cohabiting couples. This was much to the delight of many practitioners, as well as organisations like Resolution. However, when its 2024 election manifesto was published, a number of family lawyers suggested that the document was silent on this topic and alleged that the party had not lived up to its promise. Not so.

You have to delve deeply into the manifesto to find the reference but its commitment to reform is there. In the detailed section entitled, “Tackling violence against women and girls”, the Labour manifesto states: ‘We will strengthen the rights and protections available to women in co-habiting couples’. This rather begs the question whether it intends to reform the law for male cohabitees as well, but I assume that this is the case

The Conservative party manifesto has a section entitled, “Our plan to support families” but it is silent about family law reform of any type. However, it says that it has made violence against women and girls a strategic policing requirement for the first time. It talks about what it would do as far as the criminal law is concerned. It concludes by stating that it would support victims of domestic abuse including through its Domestic Abuse Act, which created a statutory definition of domestic abuse and gave new powers to police and the courts.

Although not new, the Conservatives also say that they would expand Pathfinder Courts pilot in family court proceedings and continue mediation vouchers to help more families resolve private law child arrangements without an acrimonious court battle.

Turning to the Liberal Democrats, their manifesto sets out a bullet point list of how it would, if elected, expand the rights of couples by:

  • Introducing legal recognition of humanist marriages.
  • Implementing the Law Commission’s proposals to reform wedding laws, giving couples more choice over how and where their wedding takes place, while respecting religious beliefs and practices.
  • Extending limited legal rights to cohabiting couples, to give them greater protection in the event of separation or bereavement.

The Green party commits to ending domestic abuse and violence against women and girls. Its manifesto says that elected Greens would push to make misogyny a hate crime across the UK and increase the police’s capacity to deal with domestic violence. The party would ensure that domestic abuse and gender-based violence is a key measurable priority for all police forces and that all police officers are trained to recognise and tackle domestic violence. It says that it would fund local authorities so that domestic violence, rape crisis and other provision can meet local needs.

Reform has priorities for its first 100 days, if elected. Thereafter, it says that it would reform the Child Maintenance Service. It would also launch a special division of the Family Court for maintenance and defaults. Parental care would be shared 50/50 “where appropriate”. It would also provide rights of access for grandparents.

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