the government has recently confirmed it’s previously stated intention to establish a limited number of “divorce centres”, which will be “points of entry” for issuing all divorce petitions and financial applications. 6 centres have been identified so far, with London and south east applications to be issued in bury st Edmunds as from October 2015. wales is a centre on its own, and the others are north east, north west, midlands and south west, with differing start dates.
the belief is that the issue of divorce petitions and financial applications can become more streamlined and cost effective if done in bulk. that may well be right, provided that the divorce centres are resourced properly. hopefully this development will include the provision of decent IT facilities, which is crucial for the court service generally moving forward. will we shortly see the day when paperless divorce proceedings are routinely issued? hope so.
the actual process of divorce is gradually becoming less legal and more procedural in nature. one reason for this may be a tacit acceptance by the courts that if a marriage is over it is over, regardless of what the law says about the available grounds for divorce. this may have resulted in no fault divorce becoming a reality in practice on the ground, despite the continuing reluctance of parliament to deal with such a political hot potato. that in turn makes online divorce for a fixed price more attractive in appropriate circumstances, such as where the parties are in agreement and there are no unusual complications.
an example of the trend towards the commoditisation of divorce is that “legal advisers” who are not judges are now able to deal with applications for decree nisi, an important but fairly routine step in the divorce process. most of these applications are simple in nature and so this does seem to be a sensible use of the court’s resources. however, a judge recently exposed a large number of linked bogus divorce petitions which he described as being on “an industrial scale” and one wonders if the involvement of lesser qualified staff will make it more difficult to uncover malpractice of this nature.
if a separate court hearing does need to take place, for example relating to children of the family or finances, then this will happen at a family court geographically most convenient for the parties, and not necessarily at the original designated divorce centre – again a sensible measure. this is not relevant to cases handled by however, which should rarely if ever require the parties to attend at court.
it used to be that people could issue a divorce petition in any county court in England or Wales, regardless of where they lived, as a result of which one online divorce provider at least was in the habit of bulk issuing petitions in its local court. now, however, petitions should be issued in the relevant catchment area, unless a reason can be given for issuing somewhere else. again, this development does not affect, which has always covered all the courts in which petitions can be issued.
one senses that further changes are on the way. what an exciting slash challenging time to be a family lawyer!

Posted in decree nisi, Divorce, Divorce Law, financial remedies on divorce, Online Divorce, Uncategorized, uncontested divorce, undefended divorce | Leave a comment


his honour judge dodds was recently ticked off by 3 court of appeal judges for the way he handled a family law case involving an application by a 13 year old girl regarding the identity of her father – a situation requiring a degree of sensitivity one would have thought. apparently the learned judge commented that the lunatics had taken over the asylum when examining the merits of the girl’s application, and complained about the time he had to spend reading the background documentation over his weekend. he went on to describe the papers as codswallop, perhaps a phrase unfamiliar to a 13 year old. the court of appeal disagreed, commenting that the judge displayed a closed mind to the application. they also stated that appointment as a judge is not a justification for being gratuitously rude to people appearing in court. ouch. I must explain to my 15 year old daughter that the same principle applies to teenagers and their parents.
well we all have bad days, I suppose, but hopefully a sincere apology will be forthcoming. in previous times I do recall appearing occasionally before some very rude judges, including one district judge in particular who was so awful that I suspected he was under the influence of alcohol. even these days it still seems possible to appear before a judge who has taken unreasonably against you or your client, and who gives you a much harder time than your opposing advocate. maybe just all part of the general cut and thrust of litigation. overall however I can say that most judges in the family division are courteous and polite to the advocates and reasonably understanding of the concerns of their clients, and rightly so – the parties are what the whole process is about after all, not the lawyers or the judges or their court staff. we should all remember that.
the moral of the story however is why on earth risk being labelled a lunatic by a judge in the first place? by using the friendly online undefended divorce service expertly delivered by you won’t have to come anywhere near a court building or a crabby judge. the only risk is colliding with me after a run in with my (darling) daughter.

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everyone at wishes everyone else a happy, successful, peaceful and prosperous new year.

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these are rapidly changing times for family lawyers. they say change is usually good, in a challenging and uncomfortable kind of way, although I find this claim is usually not made by the poor unfortunates who are actually going through it. hot on the heels of the far reaching reforms introduced in april this year, the president of the family division is aleady pushing ahead with other planned changes to the family justice system. most of these seem likely to simplify even further the online divorce services offered by it used to be a corner stone of the family legal system that a divorce petition could be issued in any county court in england or wales, regardless of where the parties lived. most people chose to issue in the closest court in case they had to attend at a hearing, whilst others preferred the added anonymity of proceeding in a court far from home.
in april this year the county court lost it’s power to deal with divorce cases completely, coinciding with the birth of the new family court network, in which all divorce petitions now have to be issued. at the same time a practise was created whereby the family court in which to issue proceedings is identified by reference to the postcode of the petitioner (the one issuing the petition). it seems that at present a petition can still be issued in any family court around the country, but certainly the push is towards parties using a designated court.
apparently, an even more streamlined process is in the pipeline. the president of the family division has made clear his intention that the number of courts in which petitions can be issued will be reduced drastically over the next 12 months or so, perhaps to less than 20 countrywide. there will be a designated family centre in each administrative area, plus specified family hearing centres. ultimately, the objective may be for all divorce proceedings to be issued in one national centre, presumably for reasons of efficiency and cost cutting, which isn’t such a bad idea. it seems that all simple cases will be handled in that court, and that if an issue arises (such as a complication with the divorce itself, or a dispute over the children or money), then the case will be farmed out to the most convenient court for a hearing to take place. sounds sensible, provided that the court file is not lost in transit and that the central court can cope with the volume of work. like a lot of these worthwhile projects however, it’s success will depend partly on the amount of hard cash put up by the treasury to fund the necessary software programme, manpower etc. has adapted to these variations as they have happened and will continue to do so, although admittedly it has been a challenge this year given how little notice of the changes was granted to the legal profession. anything that simplifies the process of divorce also simplifies the process of providing online divorce services. this gives more choices to people going through divorce as to how and where they can obtain legal advice for what can be either a simple or a complicated process. legal horses for legal courses.

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to MIAM or not to MIAM?

government ministers are constantly looking at ways of keeping people out of the courts, especially divorcing couples, with the motivation as ever that this will save money for the taxpayer and/or increase their popularity. it must be sensible to explore the possibility of resolving disputes outside the courtroom, particularly family cases, which do seem ill-suited to an adversarial process especially where children are involved.
the most popular alternative to litigation for Whitehall mandarins seems to be mediation, whereby a jointly appointed mediator (who may or may not be a lawyer) tries to help the parties to reach their own solution to their problems, instead of imposing a decision on them which they may or may not like as a judge would do. there is much to be said for this process if there is a level playing field, as the parties are much more likely to be happy with and abide by a solution they have achieved themselves. of course there is inevitably a cost to mediation – the mediator has to be paid by the parties, and they might need external legal advice during the process – plus it can create additional costs and delay if mediation is tried and fails. nonetheless, the process has clear strengths and potential advantages for many couples.
however, the bottom line is that you can’t force people to mediate if they don’t want to. some cases just need to be resolved by a judge due to their very nature, and some spouses are determined to have their day in court and cause as much cost and inconvenience as possible for their former spouse as part of the healing process. government has been slow to realise this however, and there seems to be a suspicion that lawyers deliberately fail to inform clients about mediation to keep their tills ringing with court work – cue populist sound bites about fat cat lawyers. no doubt there are some solicitors who think like this, but I am sure that most family lawyers genuinely want the best outcome for their clients, particularly members of resolution ( in fact, the recent and very probably ill-judged removal of legal aid from most family law cases has resulted in a sharp decline in the number of referrals to meetings for people to find about how mediation works before embarking on court proceedings (known as mediation information and assessment meetings, or MIAMs). this seems to suggest that lawyers were in fact more willing to refer clients to MIAMs than politicians believed.
another move in this direction is that from april this year, anyone who wishes to apply for financial orders in divorce proceedings must first attend at a MIAM before being allowed to issue an application (known as a form A or B for any law students in the room – a gold star for anyone who can tell me the difference). this MIAM requirement can only be avoided in certain fairly extreme circumstances, such as the presence of proven domestic violence, or unreasonable hardship. sounds ok at first sight, although by the law of unintended consequences this has resulted in form A and B becoming much longer and complex, and much harder for non lawyers to understand. furthermore, i have already had one case where the other side were unwilling to contemplate mediation, so they simply skipped around the MIAM requirement at issue stage by falsely claiming unreasonable hardship in the form A. this misconduct should in theory be picked up by the judge at the first hearing (given that my client was paying many thousands of pounds per month in voluntary maintenance at the time!), but it remains to be seen what appetite the judges will have for upholding the new rules.
a better answer may be to educate people more effectively about the potential benefits of alternatives to going to court, rather than forcing them to take part in a process which by its nature needs to be embarked upon voluntarily. longer term, it may be sensible to try to completely change the culture of the divorce process by removing divorcing couples from the adversarial court arena all together. the creation of the single family court in april this year, which now deals with almost all family cases, is a tremendous step in the right direction, and one which may eventually put me out of a job if I am around for long enough.
in the meantime, I like to see as another form of alternative dispute resolution in itself, since it is very cost-effective, it depends on the cooperation of the parties and it keeps them completely out of court except on paper. I wonder if I could persuade the MOJ to make a JD-IAM compulsory?

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It’s women who want divorce, our study reveals

divorce word cloudOur Research into Search Behaviour has conducted some new research which reveals that women are much more interested in divorce compared with men. We analysed a year’s worth of website data (collected from and have identified a striking difference in search behaviour when looking at the search terms visitors were using to find the site.

According to Google, the demographics of our website visitors show a fairly even 50/50 split between male and female, so there is no gender bias at play. But the search terms used tell us that women are far more interested in divorce than men.

We examined a range of search terms over a recent 12 month period and recorded those which mentioned divorce specifically. We investigated this further and noticed there were a lot more references to “husband” than to “wife”.

The majority of these searches showed women’s enquiries (phrases used included “how do I divorce my husband”, “can I divorce my husband”, “grounds for divorcing husband”, “divorcing husband”, and so on).

Comparing the two, we found that almost 70% of divorce-related searches came from women and only 30% from men.

These findings may come as no great surprise since they correlate well with some established statistics about divorce and gender. There have been many studies particularly in the US and UK which show that women are much more likely to pursue divorce than their male partners.


Published divorce statistics

A 2000 paper published in American Law and Economics Review by Margaret F. Brinig and Douglas W. Allen reported data from several studies across the US spanning more than 100 years (1867 to 1995) regarding the percentage of instances where the woman had filed for divorce. Based on the collected data, it turns out that women had initiated the divorce in around 70% of all cases.

In the UK, the Office for National Statistics records data about divorces every year and a clear trend can be seen. From 2011 to 2013, divorce petitions from the wife outnumbered divorce petitions from the husband by 2 to 1. In total, two thirds of all divorce petitions came from women, with around 65% from women compared to just 35% initiated by men.

In 2012, the Office for National Statistics reported that from all the divorce decrees granted to one partner, 65% were granted to the wife.


Grounds for Divorce

The divorce statistics for the last decade or more reveal the grounds for divorce cited by the petitioners. In the UK, there are only five grounds for divorce – unreasonable behavior, adultery, 2 years separation with consent, 5 years separation, and 2 years desertion. For both men and women the grounds for divorce are quite similar, with Unreasonable Behaviour being the most cited. Separation is the next most common reason (2 years with consent being more common than 5 years). Adultery is less common, with only a small percentage of women and men citing this as grounds for divorce, while desertion petitions are very rare nowadays.

The UK Ministry of Justice recently published some data on the grounds for divorce cited by petitioners in England and Wales :

Grounds for Divorce cited by wives in England and Wales (2011-2013)

  • Unreasonable Behaviour (54%)
  • 2 Years Separation with Consent (22%)
  • Adultery (13%)
  • 5 Years Separation (10%)
  • 2 Years Desertion (0.6%)
  • Mixed Grounds (0.4%)

Grounds for Divorce cited by husbands in England and Wales (2011-2013)

  • Unreasonable Behaviour (37.5%)
  • 2 Years Separation with Consent (31%)
  • 5 Years Separation (17%)
  • Adultery (13%)
  • 2 Years Desertion (1%)
  • Mixed Grounds (0.5%)

The grounds for divorce cited by petitioners appear similar for both men and women except for Unreasonable Behaviour, which is used more often by women than by men. Unreasonable behaviour covers a range of allegations including physical abuse, mental cruelty, alcoholism, and gambling for example. These can all be triggers for divorce but they don’t explain why women are much more likely than men to take that step.

We created an infographic (below) to illustrate the main findings of our study :



Women’s Motivation for Divorce

Perhaps women may be more likely to initiate divorce than men because they believe they have more to gain from court settlements. The public perception is that UK divorce courts usually favour the wife, especially when there are children involved. Men may be less likely to pursue divorce because they fear losing their children and the high costs of the divorce to them financially.

If you ask men why most divorces are pursued by women, many may tell you it’s because the British courts favour the wives, awarding them custody of the children and financial support for life, something that doesn’t happen in many other countries which instead limit financial support to just a few years.

Up until recently women could also pay for their divorce through legal aid, making it an even more attractive option. However public funding has now been largely removed from divorce cases, so it will be interesting to see if this reduces the number of divorce petitions from women over the coming years.

Of course it would be naive to believe that divorce is an easy process for women. Court proceedings can be equally stressful for both partners and divorced women face many daunting challenges including moving house, single parenthood, a significant reduction in income, finding new employment, and gaining access to childcare. Divorce for women remains a high-risk activity, and yet they are twice as likely to take the risk compared to men. Maybe there is a much simpler explanation behind all this – are women braver than men when it comes to ending unhappy relationships?


Join the debate

We want to hear from both women and men on this subject. Why do you think women are much likelier to initiate divorce proceedings? Are you considering a divorce? Have you gone through a divorce? We want to hear from anyone with first hand experience. Please comment below.

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Irreconcilable Differences and Grounds For Divorce

it’s only when i read something in the papers i actually know something about (which is not that often, admittedly) that i realise how inaccurate a lot of journalistic reporting is. newspaper reports of celeb divorce hearings sometimes cite “irreconcilable differences” as the grounds for divorce. in fact, irreconcilable differences is not an available basis on which to seek a divorce at all.

in a nutshell, to get a divorce in england or wales  one has to show that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. this can be done in one of five different ways, namely adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, 2 years separation with consent or 5 years separation. irreconcilable differences is conspicuous only for its absence. there are of course additional hurdles to jump, such as showing that the court has jurisdiction to accept the divorce petition in the first place.

the unreasonable behaviour ground for divorce can be a kind of sweep up provision covering a multitude of sins, although adultery should not be included as an allegation of unreasonable behaviour but should be pleaded  separately as a  ground for divorce in its own right. i suspect that when journalists mistakenly refer to irreconcilable differences the divorce petition has usually been based on unreasonable behaviour. however, the irreconcilable differences must have been caused by the actual unreasonable behaviour of the “guilty” party – the respondent to the petition. hence it’s not sufficient for the petitioner (the one issuing the petition) to allege for example that “frequent arguments occurred between the petitioner and the respondent”. he (or more commonly she) must claim that “frequent arguments occurred between the petitioner and the respondent as a result of the respondent’s unreasonable behaviour

as can be seen from the above, if someone wants to get divorced immediately without waiting for 2 or 5 years separation to pass one has to allege adultery or unreasonable behaviour, but this risks raising the temperature and causing conflict. there are ways of reducing the tension, and for example it’s possible for the respondent to admit adultery with an un-named co-respondent. an experienced family lawyer can also draft a mild unreasonable behaviour petition, to cause minimum offence to the respondent whilst satisfying the court that proper grounds for divorce exist. where both parties want an immediate consensual divorce  with minimum fuss they often find it perplexing to be told that the law requires one of them to make allegations of bad behaviour against the other. indeed they find it hard to understand why they can’t cite irreconcilable differences, just like the celebs do in the papers.

one wonders how long will it be until the possibility of no fault divorce is raised again in parliament? not for a while if there’s another coalition government after next year’s election, i suspect. too much of a political hot potato.

for more information on grounds for divorce visit

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Where To Now For Online Divorce?

some years ago the co-op announced its intention to become a major provider of legal advice in competition with traditional firms of solicitors, particularly in relation to services for individuals rather than companies such as wills and probate, personal injury and conveyancing. as part of this objective it launched an ABS (alternative business structure) named co-operative legal services and recruited some fairly heavyweight lawyers from private practice to kick start the venture. one of the services offered by the business is family law, including divorce and related issues. that’s it, I thought. great brand. huge reach. massive marketing spend. time for me and all rational family solicitors in private practice to hang up their mice and retire to a large villa in the Bahamas or a small bungalow in rhyll, depending on how kind the fates have been over the years.
imagine my surprise therefore when the business recently announced an underlying operating loss of £9.1 million on a “flat” turnover of £33 million. on reflection I guess this was not such a great shock, given the torrid time the co-op bank in particular has been having over the last couple of years, and the toxic damage suffered by the brand as a result. maybe it’s not all over after all, I thought to myself.
hot on the heels of this development came news that the advertising standards agency (asa) had upheld a complaint against quickie divorce in relation to its claim to be “the uk’s leading providers of online divorces”. the asa decided that this bold claim could not be substantiated and was therefore misleading. once more my premature retirement faded a little as I learnt how another competitor to had got itself into a spot of bother.
that then reminded me that there may soon be a review of the activities and structure of organisations involved in the provision of online divorces, the results of which could be very interesting. the last time I looked (which was a while ago admittedly), the preparation of court documents was a reserved activity and should therefore only be carried out by qualified solicitors under the supervision of the solicitors regulation authority (sra). if that remains the case it’s hard to see how many of the unqualified paralegal companies currently offering online divorces can be doing so legally, since most of them seem to prepare court forms as part of their offerings. indeed, if they don’t do so then one wonders what they are bringing to the table?
no such problems with I am happy to say. we don’t have a huge division of misbehaving bankers to tarnish our brand. we don’t make misleading advertising claims, and I wish to make it clear once again that we do not handle 99% of all online divorces. we are the online arm of a firm of specialist family law solicitors which is fully regulated by the sra and maintains professional indemnity insurance for the protection of its clients. we may not be the uk’s leading provider of online divorces (yet), but I believe has nothing to fear from any investigation into the online divorce marketplace. I am not so sure that all of our competitors can say the same.

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Do You Need A Conscious Uncoupling Or An Uncontested Divorce?

there has been lots of sniggering in the press recently around the latest A list divorce, after gwyneth paltrow announced her separation from coldplay frontman chris martin and described it as as a “conscious uncoupling”. she gave the news via her goop website – everything seems to be online these days! the evening standard cattily pointed out that only ms paltrow could make divorce sound like an aspirational lifestyle choice (and a possible marketing opportunity). apparently she will stay in LA with their children apple and moses, while mr martin seems likely to re-locate to London where they lived for about 10 years until last year, raising possible jurisdiction issues – see for more details. incidentally, why on earth do celebrity couples insist on giving their kids such daft names? have they never had to survive the brutal jungle that is a school playground?
it’s easy to write off Gwyneth’s phraseology as more flakey californian dysfunctionality, and there is a tendency for people to bask in the misfortune of others. however, there’s an element of sadness in every divorce, especially if children are involved. fortunately the couple do seem to be quite child-focussed, despite their extraordinary life-styles. there’s a marilyn monroe feel to the failure of ms paltrow’s marriage, given her star roles in glamorous perfume ads and frequent red carpet/catwalk front row appearances as a style icon. if she can’t be happy, what hope is there for the rest of us? of course, the irony is that her fabulous celebrity life style seems just too much for most mere mortals to cope with.
maybe what ms paltrow is really asking for in her LA speke is simply a civilised divorce, where the parties treat each other with respect and focus on a consensual outcome with the best interests of the children at heart. as any family lawyer worth his or her salt will tell you, this is the only sensible approach to divorce, and those many lawyers who foster an aggressive and adversarial approach should be given a very wide berth (see for more on this). come to think of it, ms paltrow and mr martin could do a lot worse than engage the services of, an online space where everything depends on consent and cooperation and the role of the lawyers is kept to a necessary minimum, along with their fees. no parachutes required.

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Binding Pre-Nups – Cart Before The Divorce Horse?

the law commission is a body that advises government on desirable changes to the law , so that government can then completely ignore it’s recommendations. ok ok that’s a bit harsh, but not so far off the mark where the political hot potato that is family law is concerned. the commission recommended recently that legislation should be passed to make pre-nuptial agreements legal and binding. “pre-nups”, as they are often referred to, are essentially agreements that enable parties to decide for themselves what will happen to their finances etc on divorce, rather than having a decision imposed on them by a judge. in the old days they were unenforceable in the courts as being likely to undermine the institution of marriage, but as often happens the law is slowly evolving in response to changes in social attitudes. at present pre-nups are not binding on the divorce courts of england and wales as such, which unfortunately creates uncertainty, but cases such as radmacher v granatino confirm that they will usually be upheld if various conditions are fulfilled.
well the first point is – don’t hold your breath. there have been previous attempts to introduce pre-nups onto the statute book but these have all been kicked into the long grass. one suspects that the coalition government’s attention may be elsewhere with an election on the horizon and UKIP wooing the daily mail fan club.
secondly, legislating for pre-nups may possibly remove their whole attraction. radmacher essentially held that a pre-nup can be upheld if it is “fair”, whatever that means. however, that is often the last thing that at least one of the parties to a pre-nup is after. what he (or she in the radmacher case) really wants is a completely unfair outcome that allows him to keep all of his pre-owned/inherited/gifted/hard-worked-for wealth intact, without having to give a penny to his evil spouse. the last thing he desires is to be ordered by a meddling judge to give money to his wife after, say, a 25 year marriage where his wife has sacrificed her career to work unpaid at home all hours and raise 3 kids – quel horreur! or a marriage of similar length where the husband has worked a 60 plus hour week while his wife has been up close and personal with the instructors at the local health club. the law commission proposes to resolve this issue by providing for example that a pre-nup must as a minimum cover a person’s basic needs. this would be an important safeguard, although “needs” can to be a flexible concept depending on the income and lifestyle of the parties involved.
pre-nups traditionally used to be the preserve of the rich and famous, understandably so as the costs involved in providing financial disclosure, drafting a settlement and obtaining independent legal advice by both parties can be substantial – it’s not just a question of jotting the agreement on the back of a fag packet. these days however there are some good reasons for “normal” people to consider making a pre-nup, and perhaps the most compelling of these is the quest for certainty. at present, judges considering financial issues on divorce have to apply an act of parliament that was passed in 1973, and which admittedly was a forward thinking piece of legislation at the time. however times have inevitably changed over the last 40 years. the 1973 act is no longer adequate to deal with the complexities of modern life and divorce, with high earning wives in successful careers (as in radmacher), multi national marriages (radmacher again), assets in different jurisdictions etc etc. this has resulted in a large body of judge made case setting out various principles, some of which are not even contained in the 1973 act! (compensation, sharing etc). most of these cases involve very wealthy people and have little or no relation to the facts of an average divorce case, and lawyers are also told constantly that each case must be decided on its own facts, despite this body of precedents.
consequently, it’s very difficult in anything but the simplest of cases for lawyers to predict what the financial outcome will be on divorce in England and wales with any accuracy. the courts have a very wide discretion ( which can helpfully craft a tailor made outcome, but inevitably creates the bête noire of uncertainty. lack of certainty gives increased scope for argument (which lawyers and often divorcing couples are very good at) and can lead in turn to increased acrimony, costs and delay. add to the mix a much larger number of parties acting in person without a lawyer due to the government’s decision to slash legal aid in family cases and you have a potential recipe for meltdown in the family court system.
a binding pre-nup as recommended by the law commission should remove most of that uncertainty. there would be no doubt that the pre-nup would be upheld by the court, and the agreement would spell out the outcome in clear terms. the lawyers could take the day off!
surely however it might be better for parliament to approach the problem of uncertainty of outcome from completely the opposite direction, and to radically overhaul and reform the law of financial outcomes on divorce. well drafted legislation should result in a far clearer picture of what would happen to finances on divorce in the particular circumstances of each case. this would remove most if not all of the existing uncertainty and confusion, and hence substantially reduce the need for pre-nups in the first place.
what better way of upholding the institution of marriage?

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