Rainscourt Family Law Solicitors

Milton Keynes and the future of divorce

Milton Keynes was chosen last week to be the UK pilot town for the driverless car: Vince Cable announced that a £1.5 million pilot scheme would start with 20 driverless vehicles in 2015 being available to take rail passengers to Centre MK, leaving the passengers free to email and surf the on screen web en route.  In 2017, the scheme will extend to 100 driverless vehicles.

Milton Keynes is the first city in the UK to trial driverless cars.    The University of Michigan is running a similar scheme in conjunction with its hometown, Ann Arbor, and the Google autonomous car, an adapted Prius, is now legal to drive for testing purposes in Nevada, Florida and California.  The MK version is not so much a car as a pod, limited to 12 mph, and putting all the inevitable quips about this being further evidence that MK is a “mad max” dystopian town aside, it is a fascinating step forward in technology.

They are piloting the likely cost next year, but I rather like the idea of coming out the station, transferring a few pounds by paypal and then being driven in your autonomous pod to your destination.

Could we ever transpose this concept of autonomy to divorce? The law as it currently stands provides that the state must be involved in the dissolution of a marriage, and insists that one spouse takes on the role of “petitioner” and the other as “respondent”.  In the event that you have been separated for less than two years, then you will need to demonstrate to a court that you are entitled to a divorce, as a result of the actions of your spouse.

I have written recently about how the Children and Families Bill removes the requirement of the court to consider the arrangements for the children of that couple as a result of the divorce, which does represent a reduction of the state’s role in that aspect.

Nevertheless the role of “fault” remains present in our system. Part II of the Family Law Act 1996 would have ushered in the no fault system but was never brought into force and the Children and Families Bill now repeals it and removes it from the statute book.  The reason that the government gave back in 2001 to not bring the act into force was that it did not support their principles “of saving saveable marriages and, where marriages break down, bringing them to an end with the minimum distress to the parties and children affected, and encouraging people to use family mediation to resolve disputes.*”  It was felt that the compulsory information meetings which would have been held before a divorce could be issued pushed people towards divorce rather than reconciliation.  The new legislation set out in the Children and Families Bill does provide for attendance at mediation before the issuing of children and financial applications but not a divorce petition, and specifically repeals clause 1(c) of part II which provides that a marriage should be brought to an end with minimum of distress, promoting as good a continuing relationship as possible and with an eye to costs.

I wonder if the repeal of Part II is not an opportunity missed.  The role of fault in a divorce has found in a study by Professor Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson to be significant: they found decreased rates of suicide, domestic violence, and spousal homicide for women once a no fault system was implemented in US states**.  Now that technology has taken us to the point of being transported in driverless cars, perhaps it is time to revise the role of fault in this jurisdiction.




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