Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:14 pm on 8th June 2020.

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Photo of Danny Kruger Danny Kruger Conservative, Devizes 9:14 pm, 8th June 2020

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Indeed, there is already provision in the Bill to reduce the six months in exceptional circumstances, and we know where that could tend in future.

The reliance on objective facts is now being abolished in favour of a subjective declaration that one party wants out of the marriage, and that effectively means that the vows made at the beginning have no legal force and no moral value. That is why the Bill is about more than divorce.

Much has been made of the hypocrisy that fault-based divorce involves, with people claiming all sorts of things to prove the breakdown, but in trying to remove hypocrisy at the end of the marriage, we are introducing hypocrisy at the start. In the attempt to improve the integrity of the law, the Government are undermining the integrity of marriage.

I fear that this Bill is a great surrender. There were other ways to achieve the ends that the Government seek, namely to let people move on with their lives sooner than two years. We could have judicial separation after six months, so that people can settle their affairs before a divorce, including moving out of the family home. We could have the Scottish system, which is the same as ours, but with shorter periods—one-year separation for no-fault divorce by consent, two years for unilateral divorce. If we really want to reduce the conflict at the end of marriages, we should reform the law around financial provisions, as one of my hon. Friends said earlier, and improve child custody arrangements. These are really the sources of conflict, not the terms of the divorce.

All that said, I accept that this Bill is going to pass, although I hope the Government will consider some changes. They include extending the notification period from six months to 12 months; only starting that period once both parties are aware of it; making the declaration of irretrievable breakdown come at the end, not the beginning of the notification period, so that it is a meaningful period in which people can change their mind and reconciliation can be effected; and, to that end, agreeing proper funding of family hubs and couple counselling, which hon. Members have raised, including once an application has been made, because, contrary to myth, counselling can be effective, even at this late stage. I appreciate that the Bill reflects changing attitudes to marriage. I regret those changing attitudes, and I think my right hon. and learned Friend regrets them. Indeed, I think everybody does. In this place we need to lead the culture, not to follow. I hope that Ministers will reflect on the cultural effect of the Bill and think again.