Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:33 pm on 8th June 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Duncan Baker Duncan Baker Conservative, North Norfolk 9:33 pm, 8th June 2020

One of the greatest assets of becoming a Member of Parliament is that you can speak on matters that you have experienced first-hand and matters that have affected you deeply. For those who have actually experienced a long, protracted and acrimonious divorce, it leaves an indelible mark on them and, in many cases, on their families and children forever.

I want to speak today on this Bill because it resonates with me personally. I have wrestled, as many Members have, with the potentially difficult connotations that this law has specifically around the devaluing of marriage, which I absolutely do not want to see happen at all. However, as the Lord Chancellor set out, the Government have brought the Bill before us with a specific aim: to ease the unnecessary conflict for couples and children.

Growing up, I experienced my family going through divorce not once but twice: once when I was a toddler and again in my final years of school. This is not the arena to open up those experiences, but this is none the less a policy area in which I am passionate to see the law improve. I am able to speak on behalf of so many people who are affected by the current system, and for the children and families affected by the deep and lasting trauma that a difficult divorce leaves, and I am fully supportive of the ability to change the law and make it better.

I am 100% committed to the values of marriage. Perhaps witnessing that painful divorce was the driving force behind my wanting to have such a happy and fulfilling marriage with my wife and my children. That is one of my proudest achievements and even my wife, who disagrees with me many times, would probably say that it is one of my better achievements. It has been going for 10 and a half years—I know I do not look old enough to have a 10-and-a-half-year marriage. For so many people, that is not the case. To continue to bind people together for years in an irretrievable situation just exacerbates the pain for the parties.

It is a good decision to deal with the consequences. Any ability to remove some of the outdated requirements to allege fault or show evidence of separation will promote a less antagonistic process. However, as some people have said, although removing the ability to lay blame may expediate the process when one party will not accept that there is a problem, we have to balance that carefully with the values of marriage.

As many Members have said, all marriages are worth fighting for. We must not make them overridingly easy to exit, so I am pleased with the measure that ensures that there will be a minimum of 20 weeks from the start of proceedings before someone can give confirmation to the court that the conditional order may be made. Together with the existing six-week period, that will mean that the legal process for obtaining a divorce under the new process will take a minimum of six months. That comforts some of the concerns that I had.

In the breakdown of a marriage, the accompanying ancillary relief procedures are often the bitter and acrimonious parts of the divorce. Like many Members, I would welcome some kind of compulsory marriage guidance within the six-month window to act as a brake—to provide reflection and, indeed, evidence that a marriage has irreversibly broken down.