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New Divorce Bill In The UK… The Case Against No Fault Divorce

September 12, 2019 Featured Today No Comments

By PIERS SHEPHERD

On June 13, 2019, the British government published the Divorce, Dissolution, and Separation Bill. The purpose of this legislation is to remove the concept of “fault” from the divorce process, effectively allowing divorce on demand, subject to a six-month waiting period, and taking away any right of either party to contest the dissolution of their marriage.
Current UK law allows divorce on grounds of the “irretrievable breakdown” of marriage. This breakdown has to be demonstrated by reference to one or more of five facts — adultery, desertion, unreasonable behavior, separation of two years with consent, or five years without consent.
While the current law is deeply flawed, it does at least maintain the idea that a marriage must be either seriously dysfunctional or serious fault must have been committed by one or both of the spouses. The government’s bill, if enacted, will sweep all this away, making divorce available to all who apply for whatever reason or none.
The government’s principal rationale for these changes is the welfare of children. The current legal process, they argue, involves raking up past faults, exacerbating conflict between the parents and being especially harmful to the children. The changes, they claim, will mitigate conflict and protect children.
The idea that no fault divorce will reduce family conflict was ably refuted by Colin Hart, chairman of the Coalition for Marriage, in a recent address to the Family Education Trust (FET), one of Britain’s leading pro-family organizations. Hart stated that it is “the fact of divorce that damages children, not the process of divorce.” Citing the famous Exeter Family Study, Hart stated:
“Divorce does not usually reduce conflict for the children, in fact the opposite is the case…the experience of most children whose parents divorce is increased conflict over an extended period with the child involved to an extent that may not have been the case previously. After divorce children are often at the heart of disputes in a way they never were before….After divorce, children are at the very center of conflict between ex-spouses.”
Hart also noted that the poorest outcomes for children are associated with the reordering of the family rather than the presence of serious conflict.
The points made by Hart are backed up by abundant research evidence. A well-known 25-year study on the effects of divorce on children by psychologist Judith Wallerstein found the following:
“As adults, many of our participants still felt angry that they had not been informed about the cause of the divorce. Those whose reluctant visits to a parent were rigidly enforced by a court order during their adolescence remained especially angry. They rejected contact with that parent after they reached age 18 and often did not resume contact during the decades that followed.”
Wallerstein recorded that a typical response of children to their parents’ divorce was to say “the day they divorced was the day my childhood ended.”
In addition to the pain and anger that divorce creates within families, the effects of divorce on children’s physical and mental well-being are overwhelmingly negative. A research article, drawing on studies from around the world, published in the Journal of Clinical and Medical Genomics, states that among the children of divorce: “. . . there is a higher frequency of depression, violence, learning and social deterioration, and high risk for suicidal attempts.”
An overview of studies published by the Marriage and Religion Research Institute highlighted numerous negative outcomes for children following divorce. Among these were a higher likelihood of drug use, involvement in crime, and teenage pregnancy. Most tragically, however, the study found that “the strongest demographic indicator of suicide is the family structure within which a person resides: the divorced family structure has the highest suicide rate.”
Colin Hart, addressing the FET conference, reminded his audience of the frightful toll that divorce can exact on the spouses: “Divorce and separation are associated with a higher rate of early mortality, substance abuse, depression. . . . Divorced people are at greater risk of coronary heart problems, heart attacks, and strokes.”
Further relaxing the divorce law is likely to lead to more divorces. Those who doubt this should look to what happened following the last significant liberalization, the Divorce Reform Act 1969. In the 25 years following the passing of that Act, divorces rose from 51,310 to a peak of 165,018. Since 1972 the number of divorces has never fallen below 100,000 per year. An increase in divorce rates will inevitably lead to an increase in the various social pathologies described above.
Given the evidence, the government’s claim that legislating for no-fault divorce would have no significant adverse effects and would even lead to a reduction in family conflict should be seen as dangerously wrong-headed.
(Piers Shepherd is a researcher for the Family Education Trust.)

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