ANOTHER FALSE DAWN?

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.

TIME TO CALL IT A DAY

Many years ago, when most of you were not even a twinkle in your parents’ eye, the question of fault in the breakdown of marriage was all important, as much was riding on the outcome. Fault determined in large measure if the petition should be granted, and if so, how the marital assets were to be divided, who would get the Royal Doulton dinner service, and who would pay the extravagant court and legal fees.

We all remember the Duke and Duchess of Argyll in the fifties, whose divorce was the daily fare of the tabloids, with ever increasing and prurient revelations the one against the other.  Binky and Dilly, as they were known to their intimate and eclectic circle of friends, used every opportunity to stir the pot in the hope that this would influence the eventual outcome.  It was the stuff of Barbara Cartland and her chocolate box romantic fiction.

Some 25 years’ later, with Parliament as ever on the front foot, attempts were made to simplify the laws on divorce by introducing the notion of the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, and five tests were enacted to bring this about.  The most controversial was the notion that the respondent’s conduct during the marriage had been unreasonable to the extent that the petitioner could no longer be expected to live with him or her or it, if you take into account the new and ever growing fad for transgenders.  Interestingly, adultery is a ground for divorce, but only if the adulterer is violating the sanctity of the marriage bed by having it away with somebody of the opposite sex.  Somebody of the same sex will not do, which smacks of discrimination to me, and the law is silent on having it away with somebody whose sexuality is indeterminate.

Against this squirming sack of sordid emotions is the recent and ongoing case of Tina and Tim Owens.  She wants a divorce on the simple ground that the love has gone out of the marriage and she finds her husband a royal pain in the arse.  He doesn’t dispute this, but as it’s not a ground for divorce, he doesn’t want one, and the court will not grant one. She has tried to reason with the High Court and the Court of Appeal, to no avail, and now she is appealing to the Supreme Court, a lottery if ever there was.

This has brought into sharp focus the absurdity of our present divorce laws, and calls for the introduction of a no fault divorce. There is  a vocal lobby, isn’t there always, calling itself Resolution, a national group of family law specialists, which advocates “the need to reduce conflict and support separating couples to resolve matters amicably, rather than forcing them to play a blame game where one or both of them thinks the marriage is over.  The simple fact is that the Owens’ case should not have been necessary, and only by implementing a no-fault divorce system can we ensure such a situation doesn’t happen again”.

Call me old fashioned if you will, but I believe in the sanctity of marriage and the solemn vows taken between spouses, and most important of all, the recitation that “whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder”.  Marriage should be more than a good knees up and swilling copious quantities of alcohol, and if, in the cold light of day, it’s not a union made in Heaven, should they simply walk away, or work at making it a success?

I agree that the grounds for showing that the marriage has broken down irretrievably should be revisited, as in many cases they are patently absurd, but that’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water.

I have some sympathy for Tim Owens.  He has accepted that the long marriage may be past its sell by date, and he acknowledges this, but to simply walk away after so many years is defeatist and a denial of their marriage vows.