Here we go again! The Government, in the capable hands of the aptly named David Gauke the Justice Secretary, will introduce a Bill sometime whenever to end the fault-based divorce system. This is a reference to the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which, in fairness, has withstood the test of time, hence the fact that it is still on the Statute books.
The main complaint of the ‘no-faulters’ is that the present law stigmatises one of the warring couples as the pantomime villain and risks damaging the broken relationship further, not to mention the effect it might have on the children of the union.
Gawke, like most politicians, has an opinion to offer on the back of a consultation paper last autumn to which 600 responses have been received. A veritable tsunami! Set against the 110,000 couples who divorced last year, 600 is hardly a representative sample, but that didn’t deter Gawke. But beneath the rhetoric, there is little of substance, as we have been here before. Referring to the 600 responses, “they were overwhelmingly in support,” he trumpeted, “and it is my ambition to bring forward legislation in the next session of Parliament.” Assuming, of course, that he and his party are still in government by then.
But whilst the commentators and interested spectators such as Sir Paul Coleridge, the retired Family Court Judge, gave the proposed reforms their blessing, what interested and depressed me in equal measure were the 110,000 divorces in one year under the fault based system. How many more once no-fault divorces become the norm?
Perhaps as much or more time should be spent on schooling couples intending to get married before they do. So many get hitched with their eyes wide shut, and with little or no conception of what lies ahead. It’s not just the actual cost of living together and bringing up a family, it’s the emotional cost that ends the relationship, and more often than not, nobody to turn to outside the immediate family, as they are more likely than not to take sides.
In my brave new world, no couples would be allowed to get married until they pass a written and oral test conducted by a suitably qualified professional.
When Gawke made his announcement, all eyes turned to the much publicised case of Tina and Hugh Owens, you will remember it well. She wanted a divorce, he didn’t, and as far as I could determine, she had no arguable grounds. Hugh came over as a perfectly pleasant man, somewhat boring perhaps, but having a boring husband is not, and never should be, grounds for divorce.
Reading between the lines, I feel sorry for the luckless Hugh, and he is better shot of her. That said, he continues to stand by her, metaphorically speaking of course. Unless and until Gawke gets his way, Tina will have to live apart from Hugh for 5 years. She has served 4 years, so not long to go now. During this period of separation, Hugh has made provision for Tina to be comfortably housed, and he makes sure she wants for nothing. Their children have grown up and long since left the coop.
As for the future, when love has flown out of the window, I would advocate compulsory mediation, without which there shall be no divorce. The fair division of matrimonial assets would remain as before, as well as proper provision for any dependent children.
It’s a matter of priorities, marriage or divorce. But whatever else, let’s get on with it. The time for rhetoric is over.