Enforcement of Family Financial Orders

Status:  We opened a consultation in March 2015.  We aim to publish a report with our recommendations to Government within 18 months to two years from the close of that consultation in July 2015.

The courts have statutory powers to order people to make financial provision for their children or for a former spouse or civil partner following divorce or the dissolution of a civil partnership.  These orders may be obtained at significant financial and emotional cost to the parties.  But further, and sometimes long-term, financial hardship may be caused to adults and children if orders cannot then be enforced.

The current law governing enforcement of family financial orders has been described as “hopelessly complex and procedurally tortuous”.  The enforcement mechanisms are contained in a wide range of legislation and members of the public, legal practitioners and at times even the courts have difficulty understanding their interaction. The current law may prevent some sensible arrangements being put in place.

The project

This project will consider the various means by which family financial orders made under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and the Children Act 1989 are enforced. It will not touch upon the basis for claims but will consider the legal tools available to force a party to comply with an order once it has been made.

Reform of the law could offer a clear set of rules and the opportunity to access the full range of existing enforcement options without the need for multiple hearings, as well as new enforcement options.  It would aim to enable the court to consider enforcement against a wide range of assets and to allow the enforcement regime to work effectively when small amounts are owed, so that parties are not forced to wait until large arrears are due before enforcing orders in their favour.

Better law in this area will help to ensure that money that has been ordered to be paid for the support of children and adults is paid.  It would also limit the damaging effects of ongoing litigation on families, enabling the parties to move on with their lives.  A simpler and more intuitive enforcement process would assist individuals and could ease pressure on the court system and legal advice agencies.

Next steps

We produced a full consultation paper setting out a number of consultation questions and provisional proposals in March 2015.  We will need to consider all responses to that consultation and aim to publish a report with our final recommendations to Government by summer 2017.