Sometimes, you wonder what Conservatives are actually for. Just as we find that a Tory government is intent on scrapping Sunday trading laws, ostensibly for a year (what odds would you give, exactly, on them reverting to the status quo ante after that?) it seems ministers are also hell-bent (and never was the term more apposite) on fast-tracking through parliament legislation to bring about no-fault divorce.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill is set for its second reading in the Commons today and ministers are apparently keen to see the legislation receive royal assent as soon as the end of this week.
The upshot will be that a “no-fault” divorce (so, no assignation of blame for adultery or unreasonable behaviour or whatever) can be obtained in as little as six months, rather than the currently enforced separation by agreement after two years.
What’s more, it seems the changes will also allow one partner to initiate divorce proceedings and begin a 20 week “reflection period” without notifying their spouse, according to the Daily Telegraph.
There will be opposition from at least a dozen backbench MPs to the legislation, including the Catholic, Sir Edward Leigh. He wants divorces only to be granted after a minimum of nine months as a compromise measure, and is against the Government’s whole agenda on this: “I don’t understand why the Government is going for this quick-style divorce. The killer point is if you make something easier it will happen more often.”
And that’s just it. The easier divorce is, the more likely it is to happen. In the two years of enforced separation a lot can happen, including the possibility of reconciliation. Crucially the quickie divorce is unjust to the spouse who doesn’t want to be divorced; his or her wish to remain married isn’t respected. Forget Tories who were formerly social conservative; which parliamentarian who actually respects the institution of marriage wants this change? The dozen Tory rebels may be backed by some Labour MPs supportive of marriage, but with the Labour party in favour, with the LibDems, it’s looking like it’ll go ahead.
And what’s the focus on no-fault about? I know quite a lot of couples who divorced and although the story of the marital breakdown is usually complex, there is almost always a decisive element of fault on the part of one of them. Not acknowledging, say, adultery as the thing that brought about the breakdown of the relationship doesn’t do justice to the injured party.
It may be asking too much of the Prime Minister, who has recently secured his second divorce in order to marry his pregnant girlfriend, to oppose the measure, but it seems strange that someone like his adviser, Dominic Cummings, can’t see that this legislation is at odds with a society built on stable relationships, including the foundational one of marriage. Once there would have been a cohort of parliamentarians of all parties who would have seen this off; now it’s up to the brave few.
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