Mackay hits back over divorce Bill

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Lord Mackay, the Lord Chancellor, yesterday defended his proposed Divorce Reform Bill against those who have said it would weaken the institution of marriage.

Some critics on the right of the Conservative Party are unhappy about plans to abolish the principle under which of one partner is said to be at fault, and about reducing the time for the quickest divorces from two years to one.

The Bill is likely to be put to the Commons on a free vote as a matter of conscience, early in the next session of Parliament, but would only be implemented after a lengthy period of pilot schemes and training of new mediators.

In a speech to a Catholic mediation service, Marriage Care, the Lord Chancellor, a devout Christian, said the law could never save marriages that had genuinely and irretrievably broken down. "The law, no matter how cleverly and carefully drafted, cannot force couples to live together. It cannot make people love and cherish each other, nor make them help, understand, respect and be tolerant of each other while they are husband and wife.

"Even if divorce were to be outlawed altogether, marriages would still break down and some partners would simply walk away.

"How much worse to leave the future arrangements for finance, property and especially for children unresolved, and for the new relationships into which those who walk away would be apt to enter.

"I am only too aware of the research in this area that indicates the damage to children caused by family conflict."

He told his audience, which included Catholic MPs from both parties: "The new system will not involve allegations of fault, which can cause the couple to come into conflict at the outset. The applicant [for divorce] will be required to file a neutral statement that they believe their marriage has broken down."

He said the intention was that more marriages could be saved by the process, which encourages mediation, rather than encouraging both sides to appoint solicitors who would often turn the process into a confrontation.

"I do not believe a marriage is necessarily irretrievable, just because one of the parties has asked for divorce.

"In marriages where communication has been difficult between the couple, such a step may be a means of getting the marriage on the agenda, to make the other partner take the problems seriously.

"This is one of the main reasons underlying my wish to change the current divorce system, in particular, how the divorce starts."