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No longer "till death us do part": unilateral 'no reason' divorce laws set to undermine marriage

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The UK government has announced that divorce laws in England and Wales are to be overhauled for the first time in nearly 50 years, in another move to undermine the nature of marriage.
 

Unilaterally imposed divorce

After publishing the results of a consultation proposing changes to current marriage laws, Justice Secretary David Gauke confirmed that the new laws were set to make divorce quicker and easier, with the hope that it would put an end to the ‘blame game’ and therefore be ‘less damaging’ for any young children involved.

The proposed new laws will keep “irretrievable breakdown” as the sole grounds for divorce and remove the need to show ‘fault’ or evidence of the other spouse’s behaviour. Instead, one party will be required to make a statement that the marriage has broken down and the other will no longer have any right to contest the request for a divorce.

The Ministry of Justice announced that couples will then have a six-month period to “allow for reflection” before the divorce is registered.

However, this will essentially enable one spouse to unilaterally impose divorce on the other for no reason. This could easily result in the likely loss of the family home and child care for the other spouse and any children involved, and force couples to split where the other partner has been faithful and wants to stay in the marriage.

Furthermore, some of the reforms seem greatly unpopular: some 80% of consultation respondents disagreed with introducing a statement and taking away the need to show evidence, and a further 83% of respondents disagreed with the proposal to remove the right to contest, suggesting it would make divorce too easy and give unilateral power to one spouse to end a marriage. (See pages 42-43 and 48 of the consultation response.)
 

Lack of evidence

There is no evidence to back up the government’s claim that this will lessen animosity between couples and be less damaging for young children. In fact, studies predict that the new ‘no fault’ system will result in another 10,000 divorces per year, breaking even more families apart. In American states where similar laws have been implemented, there have been increases in divorce rates, resulting in fewer protections for women and children.

Further studies show that children whose parents have separated had worse self-esteem than those whose parents argued but remained together;[1] and couples who persevere through periods of unhappiness in their marriage are more likely to be glad they did so later in life.
 

“Outdated law”?

Currently, under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, couples in England and Wales wanting a divorce can obtain one either by proving that their partner is at fault through adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour. Or, if both agree, they may divorce after having been separated for a minimum of two years. Alternatively, if the parties do not both agree to a divorce, then one can still be obtained after a minimum separation of five years.

Speaking to the BBC, Justice Secretary David Gauke said: “Frankly, we are not going to keep marriages together by having a divorce process that just makes it more acrimonious [and] tries to apportion blame in such a way that the couple are likely to have a weaker, poorer relationship subsequently than they would otherwise do.”

He later added: “While we will always uphold the institution of marriage, it cannot be right that our outdated law creates or increases conflict between divorcing couples.”
 

“No reason divorce”

Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of Christian Concern, said: “‘No fault’ divorce is really ‘no reason’ divorce. How can the justice secretary say in one breath that he wants to uphold the institution of marriage when he is tearing it down, allowing people to walk away from their solemn promises to hold together in life-long commitment? Marriage matters for our children, and they need to know it matters. This legislation will make life less stable and more chaotic for them.

“Marriage is a solemn, life-long promise before God to love and care for another person; the availability of unilateral divorce renders this promise meaningless. Marriage is supposed to take work, and the effort pays off. When that bond is broken, it leaves mess and brokenness for all involved. Reports show that family breakdown costs the average taxpayer over £1,800 a year. How much more must we needlessly sacrifice?

“These laws now mean that one partner can impose divorce on the other and any children, forcing them to move house and break up the family. This amounts to ‘unilateral divorce’ where one partner is imposing divorce on the other. Studies have shown that children do better with married parents, even if those parents are in conflict. No-one seems to care about the effects this law will have on children and vulnerable women by making one-sided unilateral divorce legal.”
 

More info

Read about the background to ‘no fault’ divorce: ‘No-fault’ divorce: another step towards abolishing marriage

Read about why ‘no fault divorce’ undermines marriage and family: ‘No-fault’ divorce: the new divorce proposals for changing the law relating to marriage and other domestic relationships, by Patricia Morgan (The Marriage Files)



 1. The Exeter Family Study, Monica Cockett and John Tripp, University of Exeter Press and Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 1994

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