The Government has taken a knife to the heart of marriage

Earlier this month, Parliament voted to tear up our divorce laws. MPs stripped away numerous safeguards, meaning people can now get out of their marriages more easily than a mobile phone contract.

The new law is an affront to all those who cherish marriage and recognise the unparalleled good it does for society.

During a debate in the House of Commons, Danny Kruger MP said the Government’s Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill (better known as the ‘no-fault’ or ‘quickie’ divorce Bill), served to abolish the marriage vow.

He’s right. While people will of course still be able to come together in wedding ceremonies and make their promises to love and cherish one another “’til death do us part”, the reality is that the Government has removed the expectation of life-long commitment.

In fact, it has stripped away the need for any kind of commitment whatsoever.

Amicable breakups?

Until now, it was impossible to end a marriage without proving it had “irretrievably” broken down. You were required to prove that one spouse, or both, had done something wrong – i.e. adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour. Alternatively, you could also divorce if you had been separated for two years if both parties agreed, or five years if they didn’t.

Some MPs said during the various debates that when people are ready to divorce, counselling is futile because “the horse has bolted”. The Government wants couples to be able to split “amicably”, which begs the question, if the couple are so amicable, why are they divorcing at all? Surely the marriage can’t be completely irretrievable if both partners are such good friends.

The fault reasons for divorce were written into law to enable people in difficult situations, who had been betrayed or beaten by their spouse, to safely exit the marriage. The unreasonable behaviour ground has certainly been watered down over the years to allow people to walk away from their marriage for all sorts of trivial reasons, but its original purpose was to deal with cases of domestic abuse.

The separation reasons weakened the law by allowing couples to simply walk away after a set period of time without giving a reason, and in 2018, over 38,500 divorces used this system.

Nevertheless, statistics suggest that around half of the people who divorce regret doing so, and most cite emotional reasons, rather than simply financial.

The grounds for divorce were originally meant to be strict, because the Government, and the public, understood that marriage was good for society, and that, where possible, couples should be helped to stay together.

Phone contract

Nevertheless, in its push to make divorce easier, the Government has ditched every one of these safeguards. When the new law comes in, a disenchanted spouse need only ‘give notice’ of divorce, declaring the marriage to have broken down, but without any need for proof, nor allowing their spouse to contest those claims. In just six months, the marriage could be over.

What’s worse is that the one walking out may not even be required to tell their partner that they were being divorced until the six-month process was all but complete.

Campaigners have said this reduces marriage to little more than a rolling contract. At any point, someone may decide to divorce their spouse, and after a six-month wait, they are ‘free’.

That means it’s harder to get out of a phone contract than a marriage. If you sign up for an 18-month deal with Vodafone, you had better believe they are going to hold you to that. So why then, if you pledge to marry someone and spend the rest of your life with them, should you be permitted to walk away with half a year’s notice?

The life-long commitment is gone. That was the one thing that separated marriage from everything else. Dr Tony Rucinski of Coalition for Marriage once quipped: “There’s already a thing for people who want a relationship without any kind of commitment where you can walk away at any time. It’s called ‘not marriage’.”

The Government has taken a knife to the promise of commitment at the heart of marriage. It has torn up the marriage vow.

Marriage is still the gold standard for relationships. It’s a tragedy that the Government has chosen to sell it off at a discount.