A private members’ bill aimed at reforming the law relating to financial provision on divorce has had its second reading in the House of Lords.

The aim of the Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill 2013-14 is, in its own words, to make financial settlements on divorce “simpler, more certain and democratic”, dealing with pre- and post-nuptial agreements, division of capital on divorce and payment of spousal maintenance.

The bill contains a number of proposals.

  • Pre-nups to be automatically binding, with both parties having legal advice, full financial disclosure before an agreement is made, and an agreement being concluded not less than 21 days before the marriage.
  • Equal sharing of matrimonial property, except in special circumstances when unequal sharing can be justified (for example, taking into account the needs of children under the age of 21, or the nature and use of matrimonial property).
  • The court can make lump-sum orders, pension-sharing orders and property transfer orders, but these are only to be made in respect of matrimonial property. The court would be prohibited from making an order for periodical payments for a term exceeding three years, and periodical payments should only be awarded if the financial award is insufficient to achieve certain aims (including, for example, balancing financial disadvantage resulting from the marriage).

The bill will now be considered by the committee of the whole house. The government has already raised concerns that section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, which the bill would repeal, provides a number of safeguards relating to the welfare of any child of the family.