Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:51 pm on 8th June 2020.

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Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 9:51 pm, 8th June 2020

I am grateful to all Members who have contributed to this debate with such powerful speeches. A wealth of insight and poignant personal experience has been brought to bear, and this debate on such an important issue has been enriched by it. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent North (Jonathan Gullis) and for North Norfolk (Duncan Baker) and Mr Perkins for sharing their experiences with the House.

Before responding to the points raised, let me make some brief introductory remarks. Marriages and civil partnerships are vital to society as a way in which couples can formally express their commitment to each other. I support marriage. The Government support marriage. This Bill is not anti-marriage; rather, it is anti-bitterness. In those sad cases where a marriage has irretrievably broken down, the Bill removes unnecessary and artificial flashpoints to reduce the scope for pain, recrimination and, crucially, harmful impact on children. We must accept the reality that some marriages do end. The Bill replaces a broken system which for decades has not operated as its framers intended. I note that it is supported by Resolution, which represents over 6,000 family justice professionals in England and Wales who have to grapple with the current framework every day.

One of the principal problems of the current statute is that it incentivises conflict. It does so in relation to those who wish to divorce before a two-year separation period because of the specific need to particularise the respondent’s unreasonable behaviour and to do so in a way that fits a 50-year-old statute’s prescriptive categories. The trouble is that words have consequences; they can do damage, so that where once there was grief, anger comes; where once there was sadness, bitter resentment follows. The academic study, “Finding Fault?” found that 43% of those identified by their spouse as being at fault disagreed with the reasons cited in the petition. That resentment is not just damaging for the parties themselves; others, particularly children, can be harmed by it too, because it toxifies the atmosphere in which a couple then approach negotiations over arrangements for children and finances. No wonder the president of the Law Society has said:

“For separating parents, it can be much more difficult to focus on the needs of their children when they have to prove a fault-based fact against their former partner…
Introducing a ‘no-fault’
divorce…will change the way couples obtain a divorce—for the better.”