The government’s Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill was debated in the House of Commons on Tuesday and passed its second reading. This means that it now progresses to the Committee stage where amendments can be proposed, and where each line of the Bill is scrutinised.
The Bill will enable one partner to impose divorce on the other for no reason at all. It can be termed ‘unilateral divorce’ whereby divorce is imposed on the partner and any children, with all the consequences including likely loss of family home and impacts on childcare and other relationships.
The cost of family breakdown
Family breakdown is estimated to cost the government a staggering £51bn per year. Earlier this year, The Centre for Social Justice published a report, Why Family Matters, which showed that those who experience family breakdown when aged 18 or younger are twice as likely to get in trouble with the police or spend time in prison, and approaching twice as likely to experience educational underachievement, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, and mental health issues.
The government ignored its own consultation
Fiona Bruce MP spoke powerfully in the debate about how this Bill will only lead to increased family breakdown and a decline of marriage. She castigated the government for ignoring the strong results of the government’s own public consultation on no-fault divorce:
“It is especially concerning that the Government are ignoring the result of their own public consultation on the matter. Of those who responded, 80% did not agree with the proposal to replace the five current grounds for divorce with a six-month notification process; a mere 17% were in favour of the proposals in the Bill. No less than 83% wanted the Government to retain the individual’s right to contest a divorce; only 15% said that that right should be removed. What reason did the Government give for ignoring those responses? It was that the respondents who objected to the proposals did so as a result of a campaign to raise public awareness about the proposals. That is laughable—not just laughable, but deeply worrying. Why should the public bother responding to consultations if they are ignored in this way?”
Society should encourage couples to stay together
Fiona Bruce pointed out the clear benefits to all of society of couples staying together:
“However, when couples do stay together and weather the inevitable storms of marriage, the stability that that engenders benefits not just the parties, but their children. Indeed, it is increasingly acknowledged that, even where there is an argumentative marriage—as many are—where parents stick together, the stability benefits the children. Indeed, the Lord Chancellor talked about stability benefiting children. The wider community and society benefit, too. Sadly, the UK has one of the highest levels of family breakdown in the developed world, with profound consequences for children’s mental health, housing pressures, homelessness, addiction, loneliness in old age, and much more. So, in order to promote stability, Government is justified, and has an interest, in helping couples stay together and in counteracting wherever possible the consequences of the high level of relationship breakdown in this country.”
Removal of fault will not reduce family conflict
Fiona Bruce also criticised the premise of the Bill, arguing that it will not reduce family conflict at all:
“The tragedy is that the premise on which the Bill is founded—reducing conflict—is a false one. Solicitors specialising in family law tell me that no-fault divorce is no silver bullet to reduce family conflict and acrimony. They say the real source of contention between spouses and ex-spouses is finance and the division of assets. The Bill will do nothing to change that. Indeed, the Government are missing an opportunity in the Bill to tackle some grave injustices in that regard, while creating others. One solicitor who has specialised in family law day in, day out for 25 years says of the Bill:
‘It will in my view lead to more not less divorce’
The solicitor continues:
‘I have dealt with a lot of cases these last few years where people have done the divorce themselves’
and says the Government are
‘trying to make it easier to exclude lawyers—but’
the divorcing couples
‘have not sorted out the finances correctly, either by not getting a clean break order (therefore the former spouse can still make a claim years after the divorce) or not sorting finances at all, as a dominant party (usually man) puts pressure on the other to do nothing—often causing that other to be in financial hardship.’
He goes on:
‘The issue is and always has been finance in divorce, not the divorce process. No-fault divorce will not solve anything in my view. Instead they should look at ways to provide financial equality in the process of sorting divorce and finances, as it is still often one party who is more able to pay for good legal support. The Financial Services order is supposed to allow the other to apply to court forcing the financially stronger to fund both lawyers but in reality the process is…difficult…restricted and doesn’t work.’”
Undermines the nature of marriage
Fiona Bruce also pointed out that removing fault for divorce sends out a strong signal that marriage need not be taken seriously.
“The removal of fault sends out a signal—I am particularly concerned about the signals sent out by the Bill to young people—that marriage can be unilaterally exited, on notice, by one party, with little if any recourse available to the party who has been left. I fear it signals that marriage need no longer be entered into with the intention of its being a lifelong commitment, as it is today—perhaps it will be signalled more as a time-limited arrangement that can be ended at will. Indeed, it is interesting that, in my law firm, I am now hearing the phrase ‘My current partner’ coming into usage.”
“…I am concerned that, if marriage can be seen as so easily exited, more and more young people will think, ‘Why bother entering into it at all?’ Marriage rates may well, and likely will, further decline.”
We have enough family breakdown already
Tim Dieppe, Head of Public Policy at Christian Concern commented:
“There is still a long way to go before this Bill becomes law, but it is very concerning that MPs have backed it at this stage. Instead of bolstering the family and bringing forward policies to support families, the government is introducing a Bill that will result in increased family breakdown!
“We hope and pray that the Bill will be significantly changed or defeated. We have enough family breakdown already and this Bill will only make it worse.”