Whilst the focus of political news has remained on the Conservative Leadership contest, and in particular its implications for BREXIT, largely unreported Parliament has continued to legislate on important matters, even if rather fewer MPs appear to be participating in this process.
Last week the House of Commons gave a second reading to a bill bringing in the most profound changes to our divorce law since the nineteen sixties. I am simplifying a complex measure, but basically the current law still requires ‘irretrievable breakdown’ to be proved through adultery, desertion or unreasonable conduct by one of the parties before divorce is granted. The Alternative is a separation of two years, but where one party opposes the divorce the other must wait fully five years to get one.
The reform approved by the commons last week will change this fundamentally: The long waits of two and five years are swept aside and the concept of ‘fault’ in divorce is removed.
Clearly, irretrievable breakdown on the basis of unreasonable behaviour means that at least one of the parties has behaved unreasonably and is at fault. The focus of the measure before Parliament is to grant ‘no fault divorce’: to simply accept that a relationship has broken down when either party applies for a divorce, rather than having to demonstrate it by attributing blame.
This is not uncontroversial. I have received a significant amount of correspondence opposing these reforms. Constituents have complained that they trivialise both marriage and divorce. Furthermore, that they fly in the face of the facts: there is fault in divorce, people do behave unreasonably, and surely the law should recognise this.
Some of our clergy have complained that the sanctity of marriage is undermined by making it so easy to end it.
I have a great deal of sympathy with these arguments, and I had to reflect for a long time before giving my assent to the bill.
The question of ‘sanctity’ in marriage is a religious one. Of course, a change in the law of marriage as a civil contract cannot change what the Church teaches about ‘Holy Matrimony’ and its indissolubility, or otherwise.
The key issue is the question of ‘fault’. I accept that there is fault in divorce, but in my experience it is the requirement to attribute that fault -to lay the blame- that can make divorce a so much more malicious affair.
So often divorced constituents have come to my surgeries seeking my assistance in a continuing warfare with their former spouse, where the children are being used as the weapons.
It was on the basis of lowering the temperature by removing the need for one party to blame the other when seeking a divorce, that I gave my consent to the bill.
I hope, with the assistance of like-minded MPs, to extract a commitment from the Government during the remaining stages of the bill, to greater support for struggling couples earlier in their marriage.