[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 5 April, 2004, 12:42 GMT 13:42 UK
New family law reforms proposed
Wedding ring
Scotland's divorce laws are set to change
The Scottish Executive has put forward proposals to change laws relating to divorce and parental rights.

Ministers want to reduce the waiting time for an uncontested divorce from two years to one and in contested cases from five years to two years.

Co-habiting couples who split up will be able to go to court if there is disagreement over dividing the assets.

Unmarried fathers who register the birth of their child with the mother would be given full parental rights.

Family support

At the moment, only the mother has such rights, even if the father's name is on the child's birth certificate.

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson said there were about 200,000 unmarried couples living together with one or more children and that the measures reflected changes in modern lifestyles.

"The status quo isn't an option where so many children are left with families without proper legal safeguards.

Cathy Jamieson
We have a role in providing a sensible framework of legal safeguards when, sadly, family relationships break down
Cathy Jamieson
Justice Minister
"We are not proposing that cohabitation should have the equivalent legal status marriage, but our objective is to introduce legal safeguards where a relationship ends or one party dies.

"Where we can help is in providing the right kind of support when families hit a rocky patch.

"We have a role in providing a sensible framework of legal safeguards when, sadly, family relationships break down," she said.

"This legal framework exists already in Scotland but there is widespread consensus that it no longer provides the safety net of legal safeguards for the way Scotland's people now live their lives."

Ms Jamieson also wants divorce to be made less traumatic, especially for the children involved.

The Conservatives' justice spokeswoman, Annabel Goldie, said: "We must not get into a situation where our laws encourage quickie divorces that trivialise marriage and turn it into a conditional contract, terminable at short notice."

Grandparents' rights

Ms Jamieson said she still had an open mind on whether grandparents should be given direct rights and responsibilities in the upbringing of children

"To grant grandparents an automatic right of contact could potentially be to ignore the views of the child and that's why I don't believe that a simple right of contact is the best way forward," she went on.

"However, I do want to ensure that wherever possible we have continuity of relationships between children and their grandparents."

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said the institution of marriage must be protected.

He said: "Our culture seems to place less and less value on marriage as an institution and we need to do all in our power to support marriage and help young couples prepare for it.

"Marriage should be accorded a place of respect in our society and disincentives to marriage should be removed.

"With regard to divorce laws, the good of children must be considered as paramount, and therefore nothing should be done which runs contrary to their wellbeing."

'Court system'

Lydia Reid, leader of self-help group Grandparents Apart, said: "My hope is that grandparents will have the right of contact and when a contact order is given by the court, the court will enforce it."

She added: "I would like to see a court system being centred around what the child wants and needs, because at the moment that really does not happen."

Among the other measures out for consultation are moves to give step-parents full parental rights over their partner's children without having to go to court.

Ministers hope to publish a formal bill in the autumn, after a consultation period lasting three months.

The executive originally consulted on its proposed changes to family law in 1999 but failed to bring forward any legislation in the last parliament.

BBC Scotland's John Knox
"The proposals will spark a whole new debate on the role of the family"

Divorce 'becoming less bitter'
14 Apr 04  |  Scotland

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific