Due respect

Labour should back ‘no fault divorce’, Ellie Groves

—If you are looking to get divorced you have to have been married a year and prove that the relationship has broken down – which seems fair in itself. However, under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 the only grounds for divorce are: desertion (where one of the parties has deserted the other for two years or more), separation (either with consent after two years or without consent after five years), adultery, or unreasonable behaviour. Each one of these requires blame to be placed on one party and a lengthy court process to allow for the burden of proof to be ascertained. The exception is separation, which even then requires an extended period of time to elapse before becoming eligible grounds. It pins a husband against a wife, and a wife against a husband, partner against partner.

As it currently stands there is no room for an amicable divorce. This can lead to petty arguments being dragged up for the sake of themselves alone – animosity seems to be the important thing to remember when divorcing, rather than looking to the future. This is not to say that divorce should be taken lightly, no more than marriage should. However, people do grow apart and this should be respected. A choice to spend the rest of your life with someone is precious; a human right recently extended to all with the introduction of the Equal Marriage Act. However, respect should also be extended in the ending of a marriage too.

There has been talk for a while about bringing in ‘no fault divorce’. This would enable married couples to get a divorce by stating that the marriage had broken down through no fault of either party. This option has been raised by two successive presidents of the High Court Family Division: both the incumbent James Munby and his predecessor Nicholas Wall. The benefits of ‘no fault divorce’ proceedings include a reduction in court time for divorce cases and a greater chance for splits to be conducted amiably.

Its opponents argue that it offers an easy way out and encourages a breakdown in ‘family values’. Yet, what makes a mockery of marriage more than having to stand there and blame your partner even if there is no blame to place?

The no fault divorce bill has its second reading in the House of Commons this month, and it states clearly that for a divorce to be granted this way then both parties must sign up to the agreement independently and willingly. This is not a ‘get out of jail free card’ for those who should be reprimanded for their actions in marriage. It is not something that should be abused, but it is necessary.

It is necessary to cut court time, and necessary too as it is most likely to keep families together: even after a divorce, if people had not been obliged to blame each other they could choose to remain civil towards each other. Critically, taking away the need to blame returns the due respect to the process. For these reasons Labour should listen to the judiciary and support the act.

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Ellie Groves is editor of Anticipations, the Young Fabian journal

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