Johnson faces backlash over plans for ‘quickie’ divorces expected to come into force as early as next month

Tory MPs reportedly concerned biggest reforms in half a century could cause spike in break-ups during lockdown

Chiara Giordano
Saturday 06 June 2020 17:48 BST
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Tory MPs fear legislation could lead to a spike in couples splitting up during the coronavirus lockdown
Tory MPs fear legislation could lead to a spike in couples splitting up during the coronavirus lockdown (iStock/Getty)

Boris Johnson is likely to face a backlash from some his own MPs over no fault “quickie” divorces expected to be made “legal” as soon as next month.

The government says the legislation, due to be voted on in the House of Commons on Monday, aims to protect children and couples by ending the “blame game” between spouses.

But Tory MPs are reportedly expected to rebel against the biggest shake up of divorce laws for 50 years, because they fear it could lead to a spike in couples splitting up during the coronavirus lockdown.

Under the current divorce system in England and Wales, one spouse must initiate the process of filing for divorce and, in the process, make an accusation about the other’s conduct, such as “unreasonable behaviour”, adultery or desertion.

If the couple isn’t able to do so, they face a minimum of two years of living apart in a “separation” period before the marriage can be legally dissolved, even if the decision is mutual.

The new “no fault” law hopes to change this by taking blame out of the equation and allowing couples to mutually cite “irretrievable breakdown” as the sole grounds for wanting to divorce.

Couples would be granted a divorce after just six months under the reforms, which also introduce a 20-week “reflection” period.

The second reading of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill is due to be voted on in the House of Commons on Monday and is expected to become law as early as July.

But several Tories are said to be unhappy with the reforms, which come at a time when many relationships are under enormous strain because of the coronavirus lockdown.

According to The Daily Telegraph, dozens of Conservative MPs are prepared to rebel next week – some for the first time – over fears the reforms could spark a jump in divorce rates.

Co-op Legal Services this week revealed it had seen a 42 per cent increase in divorce enquiries between 23 March and mid May, compared with the same period last year.

The legal firm said that while lockdown has been a treasured time for households to spend together, it may have prompted some couples who were considering divorce to take the next step.

During some weeks of the lockdown, it saw enquiries jump by as much as 75 per cent compared with a year earlier.

In a letter to 200 Tory MPs on Friday, seen by The Telegraph, Conservative MPs Sir Edward Leigh, Fiona Bruce and Sir John Hayes raised their concerns that the overhaul would lead to an “immediate ‘spike’ in divorce rates”.

They reportedly claimed the plans were “sprung” on them and that there was no public support for the bill, which did not feature in the Conservative manifesto, adding: “Now more than ever we need to provide much more support for couples – and their families – many of whom desperately want to make their marriages work; as drafted this bill is not the way to achieve this.”

A number of MPs are hoping ministers will agree to amend the proposals to grant divorces after a minimum of nine months, rather than six, and could rebel on Monday if they refuse.

The reforms come after the Supreme Court in 2018 rejected a woman’s bid to divorce her husband of 40 years because the marriage was “loveless” and had “broken down”.

Tini Owens, 68, claimed her marriage had broken down following an affair she had several years ago but was told she could not divorce Hugh Owens, 78, who refused to agree to it.

Ms Owens was told she would be able to divorce in 2020, once the couple had been separated for five years.

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