Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill ‘discourages possibility of reconciliation’ – Bishop of Portsmouth

On 5th February 2020 the House of Lords debated the Government’s  Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill at its Second Reading. The Bishop of Portsmouth, Rt Revd Christopher Foster, expressed concern about the Bill, saying that divorce needed to be kinder to all involved, rather than easier. In his view “the Bill before the House discourages reflection and hence the possibility of reconciliation”.

Moreover, my sense of privilege has also extended to helping couples get ready for their marriage and then for their journey beyond—sometimes, of course, with pain, separation and divorce. Perhaps I am saying nothing more than that marriage is a very solemn thing and a very big deal, that the vows couples make are serious and must be treated seriously. This means that, while I wholeheartedly endorse the overall aspiration of reducing conflict when marriages break down, which is a good one, I hope the Government will recognise that the Bill by itself will not succeed as claimed in removing—a very strong claim indeed—issues that create conflict.

Creating divorce by fiat and assertion might lead to conflict. I have been reminded of the important provision quoted in part already from the Family Law Act 1996 that

“parties to a marriage which may have broken down are to be encouraged to take all practicable steps, whether by marriage counselling or otherwise, to save the marriage”.

That seems a laudable approach and one ignored by the Bill. The possibility—even the probability—that a marriage has broken down is best explored by the couple together with the support and guidance of others before any definitive conclusion is reached. Reducing the process of divorce to a single simple statement by one party risks squeezing out such exploration. In seeking to minimise pain, the Bill also risks removing the opportunity for reflection and the chance of reconciliation.

I wonder too whether the Bill risks creating the sort of strain it seeks to avoid. As I understand it, it is entirely feasible that one party in a marriage might know that the other considers that the marriage has come to an end when they receive a statement via the court. That seems wholly undesirable and does not match the Government’s stated intention that the decision to divorce is a “considered one”.

Perhaps my biggest concern about the Bill is that it is partial reform. Yes, it seeks to reduce conflict and remove the requirement to allege fault when marriage breaks down, but a significant strain, often with acrimony and hardship, is arguments over the division of assets and the arrangements made for the children of a marriage. If we are truly to address the financial and emotional fallout, to reduce family conflict and to minimise the impact on children, which again are the Government’s laudable intentions, I suggest that fuller and wider reforms be considered. Divorce needs to be kinder to all involved, rather than easier.

Sometimes relationships no longer work, and marriages break down. It is right that some marriages come to an end with the least degree of animosity possible between the different parties. My concern is that the Bill before the House discourages reflection and hence the possibility of reconciliation, and will not have the effect which the Government desire. It represents a missed opportunity for wider and vital reforms.

via Parliament.uk


Baroness Meacher (Crossbench): …The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth said that the Bill should make the law kinder not easier. In my view, that is exactly what the Bill does. It makes the law kinder. It does not make it easier; it is purely kinder, and I very much support it for that reason…