Melanie McDonagh

The problem with no-fault divorce

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It looks as if I’m the only one who wants to keep fault in divorce then. Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen so many divorces where there was actually fault, usually one of the parties running off with someone else. I can see why the adulterous party in the business should want to remove the distasteful fault element; I can’t quite see how it improves the situation for the cuckolded or otherwise wronged spouse. Some women I know whose husbands have moved onwards and upwards to marry their mistress have referred to them in a fashion that would make that poor woman who was banged up in Dubai for saying that her ex husband was an idiot and that his second wife looked like a horse sound like Justin Welby.

And if the wronged party wants to put the grounds for the divorce on the record, well, that’s the least they’re owed; it’s simply telling it like it is. Neither is it fair to the spouse who wants to stay married to tell him or her, tough, you’ve got to lump it. Previously, an objection from one spouse could hold up the divorce for five years, which is inconvenient for their spouse moving on, but, you know, seeing that both parties signed up to be married until death should them part, it was the barest acknowledgement of their rights and feelings. Now they can be sent packing, like it or not, after six months.

Perhaps the only element of this wretched so-called reform that seems sensible is that it enables both spouses to petition for divorce if neither of them can stand the other; previously it had to be just one of them.

The justice secretary, David Gauke, presumably to get a break from Brexit where he’s been terrifically busy, has presided over this nail in the coffin of a once-respected institution:

"Frankly, we are not going to keep marriages together by having a divorce process that just makes it more acrimonious [and} tries to apportion blame in such a way that the couple are likely to have a weaker, poorer relationship subsequently than they would otherwise do."

I’m not sure he’s got things the right way round. The acrimony usually precedes the divorce; it’s why it’s happening in the first place. As for the children, they are likely to be devastated by the divorce in any event and they are not going to be less devastated because fault was apportioned; they, poor things, have probably been witnessing the fault in question for some time.

There was a time when the difficulties of divorce, the length of time before you could divorce, and the social stigma attached to divorce (you couldn’t enter the Royal Enclosure as a divorce or divorcee…nowadays it’d see off half the Queen’s family including her grandson’s spouse) meant that you thought quite carefully about getting a divorce. Hell, it was one of the reasons why you thought quite carefully about getting married…ball and chain, and all that. There is no reason to take it terribly seriously now.

Actually, divorce rates have been going down recently. Probably because so many people don’t hold the institution in high enough esteem to get married in the first place. Funny that.

Written byMelanie McDonagh

Melanie McDonagh is a leaderwriter for the Evening Standard and Spectator contributor. Irish, living in London.

Topics in this articleSociety