Tomorrow we have the opportunity to vote in an election. Possibly one of the most important elections for decades. The political parties have outlined their policies in manifestos.
Leaving Europe is one of the key issues articulated in the various manifestos and if often likened to a divorce. How is the process of Brexit similar to a divorce? If we leave, the country has to pay the European Union a lump sum, similar to a financial settlement on divorce. What is not similar is having to negotiate a deal with potentially 27 other countries. The Withdrawal Bill, which will likely pass through parliament quickly if the Conservatives win with a clear majority, is not the final settlement; it is akin to a separation deed for couples who then give themselves one year to negotiate a financial settlement. Few family lawyers would allow their clients to commit to a contract which, in the event that a financial agreement could not be reached in twelve months, would leave a kamikaze option on the table of no settlement at all.
Similar to a divorce, the Brexit process has created deep divisions, anger, fear, anxiety and the polarisation and entrenchment of positions. Potentially this could have been avoided if common ground had been found earlier, with possibly a more open minded and flexible approach to negotiations. To that extent, parallels can be found in those divorce negotiations where fixed positions are adopted at the outset, which make it harder to reach a consensus.
But what do the parties’ manifestos offer clients who may be contemplating a divorce or separation, or indeed in terms of policies that impact on all of those raising families today?
The Labour Party manifesto promises to scrap the two child benefit limit and scrap universal credit by introducing a new system. They offer to introduce a state pension age at 60 and reduce the voting age to 16. They also promise to restore early legal aid support to cover advice on housing, family and immigration. The party offers to halt court closures and try to introduce a more representative judiciary. They wish to appoint a Commissioner for violence against women and girls and reintroduce the Domestic Abuse Bill, which will prevent the cross examination of a victim by their abuser in court. They will introduce no-fault divorce.
The Liberal Democrat Party seek to scrap the marriage tax allowance and introduce a Minister of Wellbeing who will have a wellbeing budget. They offer free child care from nine months to four years old, 35 hours a week, 48 weeks a year. They too propose abolishing the two child benefit restriction as well as abolishing bedroom tax. They will allow local authorities to increase council tax by up to 500% for those families who have a second home. The Liberal Democrats also discuss extending limited legal rights to cohabiting couples in the event of separation or death of a partner.
The party’s manifesto also proposes reintroducing legal aid and restoring marriages that have been dissolved by the Gender Recognition Act. They seek to allow same sex marriages in the Church of England, as well as addressing inequalities in pension law for same sex couples, and propose introducing the legal recognition of humanist marriages and non-binary gender identities. They plan to increase statutory paternity leave to six weeks and to allow the vote from 16 years of age. They too plan to reintroduce the right to no fault divorce, a bill which had passed its second reading in the House of Commons before parliament was prorogued.
The Conservatives are keen to “get Brexit done”. It is “oven-ready”. They are clear that they will not extend the implementation period of the negotiations beyond December 2020 and are keen to focus on “unleashing Britain’s potential”.
The party’s manifesto discusses establishing a billion pound fund to assist with affordable childcare and they wish to continue with the roll out of the unpopular universal credit. They say they will pass the Domestic Abuse Bill and pilot integrated domestic abuse courts, which will run criminal and family cases in parallel.
They will stop people claiming child benefit for children living overseas. They plan to update the Human Rights Act and establish a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission to come up with proposals to restore confidence in State Institutions. They do not refer to the No Fault Divorce Bill.
A divorce can lead to adverse financial consequences for many, but can also be liberating for some. Whatever the outcome, there is likely to be a period of turbulence ahead and just as in those experiencing divorce and separation, a period of adjustment will be required, and there may well be many who believe that it would have been better to stay together.