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Evidence shows marriage is best for society - so why are campaigners pushing for online divorce?

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In this piece, Christian Concern's Communications Officer Camilla Olim comments on news that married parents are more likely to stay together than cohabiting ones, yet campaigners are calling for the introduction of 'online divorce'.

She highlights how 'online divorce' would pave the way to 'no-fault' divorce, as society continues to ignore that marriage is proven to be best for human flourishing. 'No-fault' divorce, she says, would be the "last nail in the coffin" for the national honouring and upholding of marriage.

This week, the Daily Mail reported figures showing that for the first time, break-ups involving cohabiting parents have overtaken break-ups involving married parents.

The figures, from the Office for National Statistics, showed that though nearly four times as many parents with children are married rather than cohabiting, 51.5% of those who broke-up last year were cohabitees. This compares with 2006 when 45.3% of family breakdowns were cohabiting couples.

It backs research by the Marriage Foundation: "Cohabiting parents make up 19 per cent of all couples with dependent children, but account for half of all family breakdown."

At the same time as this new evidence in favour of marriage is released, plans are being made to introduce 'online divorce'. The process, which would involve paying a mere £37 to fill out an online form, is expected to be rolled out as a pilot scheme later this year. Campaigners claim that this would save couples stress, time and paperwork. Although they have not outright admitted as such, this move would pave the way to the eventual introduction of 'no-fault' divorce. Only in November last year, 150 family lawyers gathered in Parliament to lobby for this. 

So, as we are shown yet again that God's pattern for mankind is truly good, campaigners are pushing for divorce to be made easier still. Mankind will continue to stubbornly rebel, heedless of the evidence stacked against him. 

The cost of family breakdown is huge, as several studies have shown, but society continues to ignore it or simply accept it, believing it to be inevitable. 

The Relationships Foundation, for example, estimated that family breakdown cost the public purse £47 billion in 2015, the equivalent of £1,546 for every UK taxpayer.

Research carried out last year by the family lawyers' association Resolution indicated that divorce and family breakdown makes young people more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol, as well as perform worse in GCSE and A-Level exams.

Despite these devastating facts, those pushing online divorce and indeed 'no-fault' divorce argue that the process should be made as smooth as possible. 

Under current law, couples have to state that a marriage has broken down 'irretrievably' when filing for divorce. They can only do so if one of the following is established: Adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion or separation. Couples will often cite 'unreasonable behaviour' as the closest thing to 'no-fault' divorce, as the behaviours considered 'unreasonable' can be extremely trivial. 

Proponents of 'no-fault' divorce argue that it will allow couples to split without the need for couples to accuse one another. But if so many couples believe that their marriage has broken down irretrievably with 'no fault' on either side, then the question has to be asked if it has really, truly broken down with no hope of repair. 

Perhaps, the reality is often this: It is not that husband or wife has actively ruined the marriage, but rather the breakdown is a result of a lack of action. It is common for couples to say that they simply 'fell out of love'. If a house is neglected, it eventually falls apart. Marriage is supposed to take work, and research shows that the effort pays off. For example, the Marriage Foundation found last September that married couples who have occasional date nights have 14% lower odds of breaking up. Sir Paul Coleridge, Chairman of the Marriage Foundation, commented: "This apparently light hearted piece of research highlights an essential truth about the importance of maintaining a stable and healthy marriage especially where there are children."

It is truly sad to think that many couples still vow to stay together until 'death do us part', as they tie the knot, yet divorce violates those vows. But to be able to exit a marriage on the internet; to be able to exit a marriage despite no alleged fault on either side, would send a clear message that as a society, we no longer value marriage – and by extension, the family. 

This devaluing began a long time ago, as we have slowly unravelled the protections surrounding marriage- the decriminalisation of sexual acts between same-sex couples in 1967, the Divorce Reform Act 1969, the Civil Partnership Act 2004, and the introduction of same-sex 'marriage' in 2014. 'No-fault' divorce would be the last nail in the coffin when it comes to a national upholding and honouring of marriage. 

In Matthew 19, when Jesus was questioned by the Pharisees on whether it was lawful to divorce "for any and every reason", he told them that marriage, created by God, is designed to last. And when they asked him why Moses permitted divorce, Jesus answered by first pointing to the condition of the human heart: "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning."

God takes divorce seriously because marriage is not just a social contract but a holy institution. Marriage is designed to bind two souls together in a covenant relationship, and when that bond is broken it leaves mess and brokenness. It leaves children to pay the heavy price. 

Society's relentless consumerism has infiltrated the way that we view relationships. The prevalence of pornography and even the popularity of some online dating apps like Tinder and Happn are symptoms of our desire for instant self-gratification. We seek pleasure without commitment. We seek contact without connection. As orphans estranged from their Father, our society's understanding of love is tainted. 

Is it any wonder, then, that campaigners are calling for online divorce? 

But that doesn't mean we should be silent about it. We know that marriage is still proven to provide the best environment for human flourishing. 

As Christian Concern's Chief Executive Andrea Williams said during a Sky News debate this week, divorce is "tragic for everyone when we consider just how important marriage is, how it's the cornerstone of society. And how we should be doing all that we can to keep marriages together, not to simplify the process for people parting from one another."

The church needs to speak out, as it celebrates and promotes marriage, as it stands with the married, the not-yet-married and the divorcees -  who, like us all, are in need of grace, of forgiveness and healing. 

Related links: 
More than half of parents who split up are unmarried despite the number of cohabiting couples being four times less (Mail)
Online divorce to spare couples time and trouble (The Times £)
Marriage Foundation
Sky News: Andrea Williams discusses online divorce


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