telegraph: Divorce law reforms will lead to a spike in the number of marriages ending, the Justice Secretary has told MPs.
David Gauke said it is “time to end the blame game” as MPs approved the bill at its second reading in the House of Commons today – which means that changes to the law increasingly likely.
MPs are debating a Bill which will reform the current fault-based system for divorce in a bid to reduce conflict between partners. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill removes the need to find fault in order to start proceedings immediately.
However Mr Gauke told MPs that while the changes are likely to lead to an initial spike in the divorce
rate, they would soon level off again.
He said: “There will be, for example, people who currently are waiting for two or five years for a divorce and that divorce will be brought forward.
“So, the likelihood is there will be an increase because of, if you like, that waiting list. But the international evidence suggests that once that initial spike has been dealt with – in a steady state – the divorce rate is unlikely to increase and it is likely to remain much the same.”
Mr Gauke added that the current law prevents couples from separating “if they have grown apart” unless they have the means to live apart for two years. Some MPs voiced their concerns regarding a rising divorce rate.
Eddie Hughes, Conservative MP for Walsall North, the House of Commons that he believed that his marriage “would be forever but my wife decided otherwise”, adding “it was a very emotional time”.
He added concerns that the new rules could make it much easier to divorce and there would be “a spike” in the number of couples separating.
Fiona Bruce, the Conservative MP for Congleton, added: “I sadly believe [the new rules] will make divorce easier.
“Why do I say that? Simply because it will allow one party to walk away from the most important commitment they are likely to have made in their lifetime without giving any reason at all, and without their spouse being able to meaningfully object.”
She added: “I am particularly concerned about the signals being sent out by this Bill to young people today.
“It sends out a signal that marriage can be unilaterally exited on notice by one party with little if any recourse for the party that has been left. A signal, I fear, that marriage need no longer be entered into with the intention of it being a life-long commitment as it is today.”
However, Richard Burgon, the shadow justice secretary, said that Labour would be supporting the Bill, arguing that it would protect women from domestic abuse, limit the damage of toxic marriages to children and “encourage amicable separations”.
In its response to the consultation this spring, the government made clear that it did “not expect the divorce rate to increase in the long term, but there may be a short-term transitional increase in the volume of divorces.”
Following the Bill reading, Jo Edwards, head of family at the law firm, Forsters, said: “It is a commonly made charge that there will be a surge in the number of divorces with the advent of no fault divorce. However, that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny and isn’t the experience of other countries which have gone through the transition to no fault divorce.”
She added: “There are a number of my clients who, aware that change is in the offing, are presently thinking about waiting for the new law to come into effect so that they don’t have to apportion blame, which most don’t want to do. Therefore, at most, I expect to see a short-term increase in the number of divorces I handle immediately after the law is changed, to reflect those who have waited, but no longer term impact.”
Harry Benson, spokesman for the Marriage Foundation, said:
“There is no reason whatsoever to believe these new law reforms will lead to an increase in the number of marriages ending. Although there is likely to be a short term blip as those waiting two years are accelerated. this is what happened in Scotland when similar reforms were made in 2006. Thereafter divorce numbers continued their downtrend as in England and Wales.
The reality is that couples find out what the law says after they have decided to split up. Overall divorce rates have now fallen to levels last seen in 1969 and may yet fall further. This law won’t change that.”
Last year the Office of National Statistics reported that 110,000 couples divorced in England and Wales. All these divorces took place under a law which has been deemed damaging to couples and children.
Source: Published by telegraph