No-fault divorce plans rushed through while weddings remain illegal

10 June 2020

Rebekah Moffett, Communications Officer, comments on the recent Parliamentary debate on the no-fault divorce bill.

This week, MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of the government’s disastrous no-fault divorce bill, which could be made law as early as next month. If approved, the bill would make divorce easier and quicker – at a time when getting married remains illegal.

Despite the proposal being featured nowhere in the Conservative manifesto, the bill was approved by 231 votes to 16.

Undermining marriage vows

MP Danny Kruger contributed to the debate:

“What will this Bill do? Its practical effect is simply that couples will not have to wait for two years for a no-fault divorce, but will have to wait for only six months. I can appreciate that two years must feel like an eternity for someone who wants to move on with their life, but I suggest that the damage done to society and future generations by this Bill will be far greater than the distress of some people waiting 18 months longer, because what is really proposed is not just the speeding up of no-fault divorce, but the effective abolition of the marriage vow.”

In effect, the government is undermining marriage, trivialising marriage vows – “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health” – and forgetting the sanctity of marriage. Instead, marriage becomes easier to get out of than a tenancy or mobile phone contract. Divorce can also be pushed onto an unwilling spouse without their knowledge or consent.

MP Fiona Bruce summed it up perfectly in her speech:

“‘Can’t we just talk about it? Can I just know why?’ Silence. Silence because there is no one to answer the young woman with a baby in her arms and a toddler at her feet, who has just received a notice in the post—a notice that says, ‘I am divorcing you. I am divorcing you in a few short weeks, and I do not have to give you a reason. I am giving you notice to quit on our relationship.’ Of course, he could not do this to an employee. Well, certainly not after two years. That would be called unfair dismissal. He would have to give them a reason. He would have to talk. But this is not an employment relationship. It is a marriage, so unfair dismissal does not apply—a marriage entered into with the words, ‘For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part’.”

‘Less painful and traumatic’?

Writing for The Telegraph, former Conservative Party Treasurer and life peer, Lord Farmer, wrote of his concerns about the bill:

“The Government is singing a siren song to all couples tempted by the relational short-termism it represents. They argue that this change drains the conflict out of the divorce process by removing the need to cite any reason for irreconcilable breakdown. But this completely ignores the fact that the enduring conflict flares up over money and children issues which are dealt with separately.”

Conflict, pain and trauma stemming from a divorce does not simply stop when the couple is no longer a couple. The fact remains that family breakdown is one of the quickest routes into poverty. It is also far more likely to lead to future emotional and societal problems for any children involved.

During the government lockdown, divorce inquiries have risen some 42% – and this without ‘no-fault’ divorce. If the bill is passed, the Coalition for Marriage estimates that a further 10,000 couples could divorce every year in the UK. At a time when stress on families has increased, the government should be focusing on how to support families, not on how to split them up.

No focus on helping couples in conflict

Several MPs alluded to the fact that the government has not focused on how marriages might be saved, and no support has been offered to couples and families to stay together. MP Jim Shannon stated:

“The sanctity of marriage is very important. Does the Minister not agree that more funding must be allocated to counselling services to provide trained help for those in marriage difficulties and to prioritise saving a marriage where there is still the will to do so but perhaps not the means to do so?”

The Lord Chancellor, the Rt Hon Robert Buckland responded:

“… it is the sad experience that, by the time a decision to issue a divorce petition has been made, matters have gone beyond that, to a great extent—not in every case, but in my view, in the vast majority of cases.”

Similarly, MP Steve Brine asked:

“Does he [the Lord Chancellor] agree that, as a society, we should invest more heavily in relationships, in preparation for marriage and in conflict resolution? … If that were the case, maybe fewer relationships would fail.”

Robert Buckland replied:

“This Bill will not solve those problems. It will not stop those problems. This is a Bill about the legal process.”

Yet if more could be done to support couples in crisis, the UK might not have such a high rate of divorce in the first place. According to a recent study by Centre for Social Justice UK, Britain is a ‘world leader’ in family breakdown. Furthermore, 63% of adults on their second marriage or more say that divorce laws as they currently stand make marriage breakdown too easy.

The government should be focusing its efforts on promoting marriage rather than divorce.

Marriages not allowed

It appears highly ironic that this bill is being pushed through Parliament now, when the government has suspended all weddings and closed our churches. The current announcement on Citizens Advice states:

“You can’t have a wedding ceremony or party at the moment – you’re not allowed to have gatherings of more than 2 people.
“If you’re getting married in a Church of England church, you’ll need to check with them when marriage ceremonies will be allowed again.
“For any other type of wedding, check with your register office to see when marriage ceremonies will be allowed again.”

How much more anti-marriage could the government be? Preventing marriages while making divorce easier than getting out of a phone contract!

Allowing divorce to be quicker and easier will no doubt increase the pressure on many couples who are finding it hard to be together during lockdown. Now more than ever, the government should be providing support to couples in crisis and, at the very least, offering hope to couples who want to get married during this time. If our leaders started promoting, upholding and supporting marriage rather than enabling and facilitating family breakdown then we might see the way forward to a better and stronger society. Instead the government is tearing apart the foundational building block of marriage the consequences of which will be felt for many years to come.

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