Like most couples, I can't explain why my marriage ended in divorce
Nobody ever really knows exactly why they fall in or out of love. All that was clear amid the turmoil was that we could no longer stay together
The government has announced that married couples will soon be allowed to divorce without having to prove fault or apportion blame. It’s an important step that will remove the legal requirement to rehash and document personal grievances at a time when people are already wrestling with a tsunami of emotions, shattered hopes and dreams, and feelings of loss and betrayal. For couples with children, it can only help the parents to move towards a relatively stable and peaceful truce.
Currently, a partner who petitions for divorce has a choice of “adultery”, “unreasonable behaviour” and “desertion” as acceptable grounds for divorce, unless they can prove that that the two parties have already been separated for a number of years.
I’ve been divorced myself. The very idea that amid the pain of separation one of you has to sit down and list exactly why you are splitting up, just to clear a legal hurdle, makes no sense at all. Nobody ever really knows exactly why they fall in or out of love. In my own divorce, my ex-husband and I came up with the grounds together. In fact, it was the only part that was amicable, as the whole idea of a clear “reason” was nonsense; all that was clear was that we could no longer stay together.
“Divorce”, a friend advised me when I called her up in a flood of tears, my heart in tatters and my mind completely unable to accept what was going on, “is a decision that one of you makes and the other has to live with.” This is so often true. Perhaps there has been a couple who sat down to breakfast one morning and one partner calmly and rationally said: “I’m not really feeling this anymore. Are you?” And the other responded: “Not particularly, no. I was wondering when to bring it up.”
Perhaps. But I think the more common way to do it would involve some screaming of “YOU PROMISED YOU’D LOVE ME FOREVER!” and the lobbing of a fruit bowl at the wall.
In our case, I was very much the one who had to “live with it”. My view of marriage had been shaped by Disney and the example of my parents, Mr Chalk and Ms Cheese, for whom splitting up was (and still as) about as realistic an option as going to live in outer space. My husband, however, was raised on Star Trek by a single mum.
The one thing that we didn’t discuss, as we giddily planned our wedding, is what we would do if it didn’t work out. Perhaps we should have, but when you’re deeply in love and swaddled in oxytocin the possibility of falling out of it seems so much less of a priority than hiring a chocolate fountain.
Needless to say, not everyone is delighted by the proposed reforms. Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, asked: “How can the justice secretary say in one breath that he wants to uphold the institution of marriage when he is tearing it down, allowing people to walk away from their solemn promises to hold together in life-long commitment?”
These objections always seem to revolve around “stability”, and the vital importance of forcing strangers to drown in misery “for the children”. But, of course, there is no stability in a marriage that doesn’t work, and nor can it provide a happy home to grow up in. Marriage doesn’t even guarantee that the relationship was stable in the first place; there’s no minimum period of cohabitation or legally mandated questionnaire that you have to fill out before you’re allowed to get hitched.
As it stands, we’re subjecting the transgressions – real and invented – of divorcing couples to a forensic examination in the courts, without ever bothering to establish acceptable grounds to tie the knot in the first place.
Centuries ago, when the state first got involved in marriage, it served as a kind of business contract that allowed people to survive, flourish, and foster allegiances, but in modern Britain, people get married most often because they are in love. Convention and tax breaks still play a part but, first and foremost, it is the ultimate way of declaring your love in front of everyone you know. If that love dies, then for many people their reason for being married goes with it, irrespective of whether their partner has cheated or even acted in an unreasonable way.
Just as marriage has changed, divorce laws have to change to keep up.
That all said, there is an institution that I want to uphold, and that is the institution of happy marriages. Thankfully, there will not be a single happy marriage affected by this reform. But a marriage where one partner wants to leave and the other won’t let them go is only an “institution” in the way that Wormwood Scrubs is.