UK

Celebrity divorce lawyer backs reform of 'archaic' laws

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Media captionBaroness Shackleton tells Today that marriage is 'not just about the heart'

One of the UK's most famous divorce lawyers has backed a change in the law - but urged couples to be more practical about marriage.

Baroness Fiona Shackleton called the current divorce law "archaic".

Under the current system in England and Wales, a couple have to prove in court that their marriage has irretrievably broken down.

She wants schools to help pupils view marriage as "the most important decision they make".

"It's not just about the heart," said the lawyer, who has represented Prince Charles and Sir Paul McCartney. "It's a practical arrangement."

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Image caption Baroness Shackleton, who is a solicitor to Princes William and Harry, at this year's royal wedding

Baroness Shackleton has been a divorce lawyer for over 40 years and is also a solicitor to Princes William and Harry. She was made a life peer in 2010.

She was speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Monday after a new study on divorce was published last week.

The research, carried out at the University of Exeter and sponsored by Baroness Shackleton, suggested that asking 10 questions before starting a serious relationship can help couples stand the test of time.

It comes in the wake of the case of Tini Owens, a woman who lost her Supreme Court appeal last week in her fight to divorce her husband.

Mrs Owens, 68, wants a divorce on the ground she is unhappy but her husband Hugh has refused.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Tini Owens has been refused a divorce by the family court and Court of Appeal

Under the current law in England and Wales, unless people can prove their marriage has broken down due to adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion, the only way to obtain a divorce without a spouse's consent is to live apart for five years.

Specialist lawyers have called for the introduction of a "no-fault divorce", which would have helped Mrs Owens.

Baroness Shackleton said that couples currently have to "exaggerate or to agree" to get a divorce.

But she said "it is no good just changing divorce laws to dissolve the marriage" and that reform is also needed on laws around sorting out finances during a divorce.

She is supporting a bill proposed by her fellow peer Baroness Deech which could replace the current system for splitting money in divorce cases.

'Be aware of traits'

Baroness Shackleton said she is supporting the University of Exeter research "with a hope that education... will devote just a little time to get students to focus on what is the most important decision they make, which is basically who they breed with".

"[Marriage] is a practical arrangement which has to survive to rear children," she said.

"And it's the children who are the very sad losers when parents are selfish and decide their own desires override those of their family."

She added: "What I think should happen is that people should understand that when they are entering this commitment which is meant to be for life."

She said people should be "aware of some of the traits that you can't change in people".

"You can't make a mean person fundamentally generous," she said. "You can't make a kind person fundamentally unkind.

"If they think about these things - not about the white dress or escape from home, or many other reasons, not the love element - [but] the practicality of marriage before entering into it, I'd probably be doing myself out of a job more often."

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