A responsible divorce law

Another View
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The Independent Online
I should like to reaffirm my commitment and that of the Government to marriage. The Government wants to strengthen the institution of marriage - marriage is most important and valuable.

I have recently assumed responsibility for funding marriage guidance. My department is now chairing a group set up to look at ways to support people preparing for marriage, as well as those who are already married and need help.

I consider that parties whose marriage is in difficulties should give very serious thought indeed as to whether the breakdown is indeed irretrievable and also look ahead to what the future holds beyond divorce. That is the purpose of the period for reflection and consideration which lies at the heart of my proposals for reform of the divorce law.

In this way, couples will face up to the responsibilities of marriage and the reality of divorce, unlike at present when there is every incentive to rush into a quick divorce, only to repent at leisure.

There seems to be the assumption that in some way the presence of fault within the present system supports the institution of marriage and reduces the number of marriages which break down. That is plainly nonsense.

Fault within the present system is clearly not a restraining factor. Seventy-five per cent of divorces are based on fault, quite simply because fault offers the fastest route to divorce - that is the irony of the present system.

How can it be said that allegations made only for the purpose of a quick divorce are good for marriage when marriage is made up of human beings - the parties and their children? Allegations of fault lead to sterile and bitter conflict which only reinforces the determination of one or both parties to end the marriage and has a serious effect on the children.

The divorce system in this country can and should be better. Better for marriage; better for the children; better for the parties. The process for dissolution of marriage should be more considered and more responsible.

Marriage and family life is not just the responsibility of the state and of the law of the state. They are the responsibility of all of us. The Government is now playing its part. It is making a concerted effort to look at how best those preparing for marriage can be helped; how best those whose marriages are in difficulties can not only be supported but encouraged to seek help in good time; how best to ensure that only those marriages which are irretrievably broken down are dissolved.

The writer is the Lord Chancellor