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Parliamentary call for 'no-fault' divorce

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A Conservative MP has proposed legislation to allow ‘no-fault’ divorce, saying that it would remove the need for couples to “throw mud at each other.”
The plan was strongly challenged by another Conservative MP during the ensuing Parliamentary debate, however. Sir Edward Leigh highlighted evidence suggesting that the introduction of no-fault divorce leads to an increase in the overall prevalence of divorce and disadvantages children particularly.
Introducing his Private Members’ Bill on Wednesday (14 October), Richard Bacon MP explained that it would allow the dissolution of a marriage or civil partnership where each party agrees that it has “irretrievably broken down”, without the need for either party “to satisfy the Court of any other facts.”
Currently, those seeking divorce must demonstrate there has been “irretrievable breakdown” by pointing to at least one of five possible grounds, including adultery and desertion.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Bacon said that his intention was not to “make divorce ‘easier’”.
He went on to explain that his proposal would give “more time for reflection”, allowing those involved to consider whether divorce was what they “really wanted for themselves and their children.”
“Divorce is a tragedy. It would be better for us all if there were more stable and successful marriages and, as a consequence of that, fewer divorces,” he went on to say.

‘Negative effect on children and society’

The proposal was, however, critiqued by a fellow Conservative, who questioned whether it would have the intended effect.
Sir Edward Leigh, who has a track record of speaking in support of marriage and family, said that while introducing ‘no-fault’ divorce might appear a “common-sense thing to do,” it would have a “large, widespread and demonstrable effect” on society.
Citing evidence from Canada, which approved ‘no-fault’ divorce in 1968, he warned that the change would only increase the divorce rate. He also noted a study from the US, which observed that “increasing the divorce rate meant increasing numbers of disadvantaged children.”
“Despite the obvious problems that sometimes occur in a marriage, the emphasis in recent years has been on strengthening marriage as an institution. Bringing in no fault divorce, while seeking to ameliorate one problem, would undermine that new appreciation by making divorce easier, and thus [increase] the number of divorces. That is the crucial point,” Sir Edward said.

‘Encourage, support and equip people for marriage’

Sir Edward’s concerns were echoed by Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, who said:
“Divorce is obviously painful, but the right response is not to diminish the significance of break-up. Rather, we should work harder to encourage, support and equip people to thrive within marriage.
“As the evidence repeatedly shows, marriage provides the best outcomes for adults, children and the wider community. This is not surprising given that God designed it.”

Cost of family breakdown

A number of recent studies highlight the devastating societal impacts of family breakdown.
The Relationships Foundation, for example, has estimated that family breakdown will cost the public purse £47 billion in 2015, the equivalent of £1,546 for every UK taxpayer.
Research carried out by Resolution, the family lawyers’ association, last year indicated that divorce and family breakdown adversely affect young people, making them more likely to experiment with drugs and alcohol and perform worse in A-Level and GCSE exams.
Marriage, however, has been proven to benefit society significantly, providing emotional and financial stability. According to recent research by the Marriage Foundation: “Couples who marry before their first child have a 76 per cent chance of staying together, as opposed to 31 per cent of cohabiting couples.” Studies also showed that “staying together was … found to have the same positive impact on subsequent income as having a degree.”

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