Georgia L. Gilholy is a reporter for Politics.co.uk but writes in private.
From this Wednesday, April 6, couples in England and Wales can file for a no-fault divorce.
Where previously “inappropriate behaviour” such as abandonment or adultery or a two to five year separation was required to end a marriage, most Britons can now terminate a hypothetical lifetime contract after at least six months.
Already some are touting this as a victory for the weak, and of course both women and men who are being bullied by their spouses deserve an efficient escape route.
However, this does not mean that a “no-fault” divorce provides for this. Under this new framework, spouses who have suffered abuse lose their ability to publicly disclose unfair treatment by their husband or wife if divorce papers are served on them “without fault”.
While “no bugs” campaigners complain that the bug-based system is “unforgiving” in its requirements, what if legitimate grievances need to be voiced?
It is now perfectly legal to quickly end a marriage without raising a complaint. This permission could easily be used as a psychological weapon by abusive partners.
In particular, people who are vulnerable due to health or financial problems are put at increased risk when they are the subject of a unilateral divorce. The most obvious example of this is when one half of a marriage – predominantly the wife – has left work to raise children.
That’s not progress. It denigrates marriage as a form of state-regulated coexistence and leaves spouses in their own homes with less legal protection than tenants in rented apartments.
It is hardly surprising that the feminist campaign group National Organization for Women in New York protested no-fault divorce because it allowed a “guilty” party to effect a dissolution of marriage, with “alimony, alimony [and] Division of property” would be decided by a judge without “considering the facts, conduct and circumstances leading up to the dissolution of the marriage.”
In fact, a Richmond School of Law study of the US’s “no-fault” system concluded that the system “failed,” leading to both higher divorce rates and fewer protections for dependent wives and children.
Those celebrating this legal turning point also assume that the assertion of “guilt” in divorce proceedings is an unnecessary source of conflict between separated couples. In reality, the majority of divorces will be accompanied by conflict because the rupture of such an intimate bond—especially when children are involved—suggests that two people have inherently conflicting or divergent priorities.
Furthermore, does anyone really believe that a “no-guilt” trial will ease the pain of a divorce? Whether or not official reasons are given for the marriage failure, the decoupling of two intertwined lives will naturally lead to disagreement and regret.
Activists on the left and the “libertarian” right are also too eager to claim that the previous claim of guilt places an unjust stigma on divorce. But the truth is, we need more stigma on divorce, not less.
Like so many cultural “innovations” of the past half-century, no-fault divorce wrongly prioritises adult desires over children. While the government claims these changes will help improve children’s well-being, reducing barriers to ending marriages will do just the opposite.
Divided families are more likely to struggle with poverty, in addition to mental and physical health problems. A 1994 study found that children with separated parents had more self-esteem issues than children whose parents sometimes fought but stayed a couple. It found that “separation and divorce do not necessarily reduce harmful conflict” and “in general the opposite may be true”.
Not to mention the fact that the family’s collapse is already costing British taxpayers an estimated £51 billion a year.
The new system will also reduce the minimum time between the start of proceedings and the application for a conditional divorce to 20 weeks.
However, since records began in 2003, about 10 percent of couples who initiate divorce proceedings never complete them. Overall, of those parents who said they were unhappy after having their first child, over two-thirds say they are happy a decade later, with 27 percent admitting to being “extremely happy.”
While divorce rates remain sadly high, surely the fact that tens of thousands of marriages remain intact over this period is reason to consider a longer period of reflection?
Even putting aside this list of financial and moral failings, it is clear that this new system is at odds with public opinion. According to polls conducted before the ‘no-fault’ laws were proposed in 2020, seven in 10 Brits were in favor of keeping grounds of guilt, while three in five agreed that ‘divorce is too easy’.
Like the Bolshevik revolutionaries who first introduced no-fault divorce at the birth of the USSR, our government has paved a great way through our law. Who knows what dangers to our social fabric will arise from now on?