MPs have approved the no-fault divorce Bill for England and Wales.
Under existing law, a divorcing spouse has had to prove the ‘irretrievable breakdown’ of the marriage, but the Government wanted to remove this need, and brought forward a Bill to allow people to divorce in just six months, without having to give a reason.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill passed the House of Commons last night with MPs overwhelmingly rejecting even a modest amendment to improve the Bill.
‘A bad Bill’
Pro-marriage MPs put forward several amendments, including extending the period to one year, and ensuring that the spouse being divorced is informed promptly but the Government refused to accept any of them.
Speeches were made by a number of MPs, including Fiona Bruce, who said: “This Bill is a bad Bill. It sends out the wrong message at the wrong time. No-fault divorce is really state-approved unilateral divorce. Ministers like to say that it is all about the divorce process and not about marriage. They are wrong.”
She pointed out that it has little public support, as in the ‘Finding fault?’ national opinion survey, “71% thought that fault should remain in law. That is a survey on which, in other respects, the Government have relied in bringing forward this legislation.
“Even in the Government’s own consultation, 80% opposed the proposals, and the Bill was not even in our manifesto.”
Bruce continued: “Making divorce easier and quicker will inevitably change the nature of the commitment that is made when marrying, because those doing so will recognise that it is something that can be exited easily and quickly, without having to prove that the relationship has broken down.”
“No longer “till death us do part”, but “until I give you six months’ notice to quit, with no reason given”.
She added: “Whether Ministers agree or not, the signal the Bill will send out is that relationships, including marriage, can be transient. Instead of supporting parties when difficulties arise, as we should, the Bill offers an easy way out. That is why I so strongly oppose it.”
Sir Christopher Chope, who spoke in support of Bruce’s amendment said: “If any more evidence was needed that our Government have lost their moral compass, this Bill provides it.”
He added: “Many marriage breakdowns are temporary and not irretrievable. That is why the issue of evidence for irretrievable breakdown is so important. Sometimes the parties interpret a breakdown as irretrievable, they get divorced and they live to regret it later”.
Former Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom agreed, saying that for couples in difficulty she could not see “any attempt to help them to stay together, to help them to get through a rough period, or to encourage them to stay together to focus on the children”.
Scott Benton MP said: “As a Government we should be encouraging marriage and supporting the principle of the traditional family”, adding: “It is in the national interest for couples to stay together.”
Sir David Amess also commented that “six months is simply too short a time to consider such life-changing decisions and make arrangements for children, housing, finances and many more things.
“It is extraordinary that at a time of national crisis the Government are going ahead with a Bill that will water down marriage to a six-month commitment.”
Sir Edward Leigh said: “I believe the Government are making a huge mistake. That is not just my opinion; the research is clear that liberalisation and expansion of no-fault divorce, wherever it has been introduced, has led to the most vulnerable in society being worse off.
“Look at the evidence from Sweden, Canada, and various US states—it all points in the same direction: we will have more divorces, and the worst-off will be hurt the most.”
He added that the Government is “sending the wrong signal — sending the signal that marriage is not one of the most precious things in the world”.