Hazel Wright, trustee
Last November, we wrote about the need for reform of outdated divorce laws. Specifically we supported the proposal for so-called "no fault divorce" to be available after a period of six months' separation.
Tavistock Relationships works with couples to help improve their relationships. We know that it is not always possible or desirable for couples to stay in a relationship that has broken down. If the couple were never married, separation is an informal process.
The fact of marriage (or civil partnership) does not of itself provide "cement" to keep a couple together. Either circumstance carries risk of emotional, psychological and social harm to the individuals going through this experience and also for their children if they have them. Of course all relationships change as time goes by. Couple counselling and therapy have been demonstrated to support clients through these changes, particularly when lives diverge. In our programmes such as Parenting Together, Parents as Partners and the now completed programme for parents with particular difficulties which we called Parents in Dispute, we have developed specialist help for parents who will be linked as parents even when the adult couple relationship has come to an end.
The benefits of moving forward through divorce without hostility can be seen from the recent press coverage of Louise Redknapp and Jamie Redknapp, who are divorcing. Having separated in July 2017, the former singer and the former footballer found themselves on the front pages of newspapers in December 2017, when the court made an order of decree nisi of divorce. The main headlines about a "quickie divorce" are wrong in law, it was the making of the order that took 20 seconds, but the process always takes around 5 months unless there is a genuine urgency. Mrs Redknapp based her divorce petition on allegations of her husband's unreasonable behaviour. The press have complained loudly about not being able to read the details of the allegations. The divorce petition is always private to the couple, their lawyers and the courts, for obvious reasons. The former couple have said repeatedly that they want to do their best as parents for their children. in days to come, these children will be able to read on the internet that their mother blamed their father.
How much better it would be if the divorce could have been started in July 2017 without blaming either person. The Redknapps could have moved forward in their divorce now, by agreement. The media could only have reported the divorce. The family would know they had gone through this change without undue hostility that is suspected even if not proved as our law stands at present.
The work of the Nuffield Foundation promoting no fault divorce will be followed in spring 2018 by a second report about contested divorces. We expect that to make sad reading. Perhaps it will be published before the Supreme Court hearing of the case of Mrs Owens who petitioned for divorce against her husband and he defended the divorce. To date the courts have agreed that her 27 examples of his behaviour (available to read in the law reports) do not amount to his having behaved unreasonably. It can be predicted with confidence that the judges will mention the issue of no fault divorce. The President, Baroness Hale, is vocal in her support of this long overdue reform.
Guest blogs may not represent the views of Tavistock Relationships.