One of the umpteen things people don’t elect a Tory government for is to make marriage more easily dissoluble. In the last year for which figures were available, 2017, the number of opposite-sex marriages was the lowest on record – just shy of 243,000 – and I’m not sure that’ll be boosted by making marriage even easier to get out of, which is what Boris Johnson’s government has just done.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation bill which has just received royal assent means that a spouse can now start divorce proceedings by stating simply that the marriage has broken down – currently, one spouse has to allege that adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion has taken place.
The law also removes the possibility of contesting the divorce – until now if it is contested, it means that the couple must live apart for five years. So it’ll be quick and easy to get out of the bond of marriage, which can only mean that people take it even less seriously.
For myself, I think it’s unjust on the spouse who doesn’t want the marriage to end that he or she can’t get a stay of execution. And the notion of no fault divorce doesn’t quite square with reality: the divorces I’ve seen close up are to do with infidelity rather than mere general disenchantment.
But the obligation to wait five years before getting a divorce from a reluctant spouse has at least the negative merit that it acknowledges the validity of the marriage bond by making it difficult to get out of. Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary, says that the new law will make the legal process less painful. Yet a quickie divorce after a six month separation is still acutely painful for those spouses who want to stay married. Their feelings don’t really count for much under the new dispensation.
As for children, it’s an illusion to think that no fault divorce means that divorce won’t hurt. It will. And making it quick and easy can only change the mindset with which people enter the institution – the one on which the wellbeing of society depends and which Tories used to be all in favour of. Easy come, easy go isn’t really a principle to make contemporary Brits take the thing more seriously.