PLANS to make ending a marriage possible in as little as six months with new ‘no-fault’ divorce legislation have been criticised during their progress through the House of Lords.
Some of the dissenting peers, led by the philanthropist Lord Farmer, have also relayed their criticisms to the Telegraph and questioned the consistency of the Government’s stance: ‘(It) was elected on a mandate to strengthen families, not to weaken them. The Conservative manifesto stated that “a strong society needs strong families”.’
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill is being ‘stealthily reintroduced under the guise of minimising the impact of divorce’, the protesting peers rightly point out. At present, anyone seeking a divorce must prove their marriage has irretrievably broken down through either adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion or separation for two years with their spouse’s consent, or five years without. But the Government’s plan is to change this to allow one party to divorce the other within six months without giving a reason and without the spouse’s agreement. It makes a mockery of marriage.
implausibly it’s now being claimed that there will be another loser in this most recent attack on the family. ‘Lawyers will lose, not gain, employment from the removal of fault in divorce proceedings,’ Chris Barton, a professor of family law, would have us believe, explaining their ‘overwhelming enthusiasm for the proposed change’ in a bid for the moral high ground.
Lawyers he explains, see the damage caused by one party having to attack the other and the pretence that any ‘blame’ is wholly one-sided. (Letters, Telegraph, March 2, 2020).
It is hard not to be cynical. The new law will introduce a ‘wholly one-sided’ divorce as even David Hodson, a partner and co-founder of the International Family Law Group and long-time supporter of ‘no-fault divorce’, admits.
This Bill, he says, ‘puts all the cards into the hands of the petitioner’ and, as far as their partner is concerned, would lead to ‘probably the fastest divorce anywhere in the world’.
He goes on to point out that in seeking to remove the ‘unpleasantness’ of blame, the Government is offering another kind of ‘unpleasantness’, in that the petitioner will decide the time-frame in which their partner will be told about the divorce.
‘She or he may not know of the unhappiness of the other spouse,’ he says. ‘She or he may not know of the affair prompting the spouse to seek a divorce. She or he may have a genuine belief in the possibility of the marriage continuing with the benefit of marriage counselling.
‘She or he may want to delay the divorce for the sake of the children, including a key stage in their education. She or he may lose out badly in the financial consequences if the final decree precedes the final financial order. These aspects are all stacked against a respondent in a no-fault system. Yet they cannot delay or stop the no-fault divorce.’
This is why he concludes that there must be safeguards. However, the best ‘safeguard’ against such problems is to treat marriage as permanent, rather than as a temporary arrangement to be broken at the whim of either party without needing to give a reason.
How can couples having to pretend that all the ‘blame’ is on one side be an improvement; when one of them will be able to pretend that the marriage has broken down without the other even being able to contest the claim?
That kind of scenario is already the defining feature of the arrangement known as cohabitation. If that had produced happier families, a more stable society and well-grounded children (cohabitation has a five times higher rate of break up), marriage – designed to help couples stay together during difficult times – would never have been needed in the first place.