A YORK lawyer has voiced concerns over plans for new divorce laws which she fears will result in a "one size fits all" approach to family finances.
Nicola Goodman, family law specialist and partner at York-based solicitors Guest Walker & Co, is calling for more flexibility for judges to make decisions under their own discretion.
Her fears relate to the Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill, which is currently working its way through the House of Lords, and has been designed to define the role of the courts dealing with family finances during divorce.
Miss Goodman, who is part of a 17-strong team at Guest Walker & Co in the Shambles, said: "My main concern is to what extent the needs of children and how they are dealt with during the break-up will be considered.
"At present I worry that there seems to be little movement for Judges who may feel straight-jacketed in their role of family arbiter.
"The provision at the moment focuses on trying to direct the way Judges make their decisions. This is not an entirely bad thing.
"If the new Bill gets passed however, this focus will be more on the set guidelines given and less on judicial discretion, which could have adverse effects on modern families, who don’t necessarily fit into the neat criteria required to make this work.
"Not all families come with one house, a car and 2.4 kids. In the real world, there are families with step-children, separate accounts, assets mingled in from previous marriages or relationships, a less stable housing market and work insecurity.
"I would prefer a greater emphasis upon the needs of the children and greater concession to the more complex financial model for modern families."
While Miss Goodman praises the provision's recognition of pre and post nuptial agreements, she is also worried about the needs of a dependant spouse who will find that his or her maintenance is restricted to a set term of three years.
Miss Goodman said: "The possibility of long-term payments has often led to a clean-break, where the payer buys out that claim to get rid of ongoing commitment. Limiting the years for maintenance will therefore stem the flow of some clean break settlements.
"We will have to see how it all works out in practice and if the new Act will remain as fit for purpose for over 40 years as its predecessor did.
"I just hope that while the aim is to provide more clarity and certainty, the Bill does not replace our bespoke, made-to-measure system with an off-the-peg, one-size fits all substitute."