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Marriage and Family

Minister admits divorce law changes will lead to spike in divorce rate

26 June 2019

The Justice Secretary has admitted that the Government’s new divorce law changes will lead to a spike in divorces, something CARE warned about when the plans were first announced.

David Gauke was speaking at the second reading of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which is the legislation that will see ‘no reason’ divorce introduced in England and Wales.

What’s changing?

Under the proposals, a notification system for divorce will replace the previous ‘five facts’ system. The changes amount to ‘no reason’ divorce, where a spouse can unilaterally end a marriage without having to give any real reason.

Under the changes, if one spouse wants out, they will be able to do so in six months and their spouse, who made what they regarded as a serious till death us do part commitment, will have no rights to contest this at all.

Government ignored overwhelming opposition to proceed

During the public consultation process, some 80% of responses were opposed to the plan to remove the five facts and replace it with a notification system, but despite this overwhelming opposition, the Government has carried on regardless.

Given the importance of marriage as the gold standard of commitment and the best environment for raising children, anything that leads to an increased divorce rate is hardly desirable.

Narrow focus on conflict

A number of speakers in the debate focussed their attention on conflict during the divorce process. The Secretary of State claimed that “When a marriage has failed, we have to take a serious look at how to reduce conflict for everyone involved, not least for children. Research shows that it is conflict between the parents that has been linked to greater social and behavioural problems among children, rather than necessarily the separation and divorce itself.”

These assertions are profoundly unhelpful and even misleading.

They are based on the myth that divorce is a temporary crisis that exerts most of its harmful effects on parents and children at the time of the breakup. Fiona Bruce MP helpfully pointed this out, noting that “Very often it is not so much the conflict; in fact, a lot of emerging research shows that the shock of marriage break-up can be greater for children when there has not been conflict in the parents’ relationship than when there has been.”

American social scientist Elizabeth Marquardt argues from her research that The children of low-conflict couples fare worse after divorce because the divorce marks their first exposure to a serious problem. One day, without much warning their world just falls apart.”[1]

Harry Benson, researcher at the Marriage Foundation, makes a similar point in the UK context. In a 2017 article he argues that “We found that two thirds of the people who split up – married and unmarried – had reported they were happy a year earlier and not quarrelling especially… These are the ‘growing apart’ group, indistinguishable from couples who stay together, definitely low conflict in nature. Low conflict splits and ‘conscious uncoupling’… may seem all very nice and civilised to the parents. Yet to the children, the split comes out of the blue and makes no sense. They don’t see it coming. No wonder their ambitions and education suffer.”[2]

Effectiveness of current divorce process

The claim was also repeatedly made that the current divorce process is a ‘charade’ or ‘sham’ and that it is ‘manipulated’ by many people seeking a divorce. The Secretary of State asserted that “The fact someone chooses does not necessarily bear any resemblance to the real reasons the marriage or civil partnership broke down.”

This claim that many fault-based divorces are from people making up reasons to have a quicker divorce, comes from statistics in the Finding Fault? report from the Nuffield Foundation, heavily relied upon by the Government.

This, however, is not an accurate representation of the findings of the report. In fact, the report found that the stated reason for divorce ‘very closely’ or ‘fairly closely’ reflected the real reason for 91% of petitioners and 58% of respondents. It would seem then, that the current divorce laws on the whole reflect the reasons people get divorced.

Undermining family stability

Fiona Bruce MP carefully explained the faults with this Bill and how it will in fact undermine marriage and remove stability from families:

“The removal of fault sends out a signal—I am particularly concerned about the signals sent out by the Bill to young people—that marriage can be unilaterally exited, on notice, by one party, with little if any recourse available to the party who has been left. I fear it signals that marriage need no longer be entered into with the intention of it being a lifelong commitment.”

Furthermore, she noted that “What is truly tragic is that it is the poorest in our society who are not now marrying in great numbers and who are the least resilient when relationships break down. Marriage brings stability. Just one in 11 married couples split before a child’s fifth birthday, compared with one in three unmarried couples. As the Minister says, children benefit from stability. The well-off are still marrying and still benefiting. That is not social justice.”

Find out more

If you want more information, please read more at the blog links below about our opposition to the Government’s no-fault divorce plans.

Why the new divorce laws will undermine marriage

How no-fault divorce could have negative consequences for children

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Marriage and Family

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