Justice Secretary admits new divorce laws likely to lead to spike in marriages ending

The Justice Secretary has admitted that reforms to divorce laws are likely to lead to a spike in the number of marriages ending.

His remarks came as the Commons debated a Bill that will reform the existing fault-based system for divorce to reduce conflict between partners.

David Gauke told MPs the changes are likely to lead to an initial spike in divorces before levelling off again.

Labour said the new rules could help reduce domestic violence, but some, including Tory MP Fiona Bruce (Congleton), expressed fears the new rules would make divorces “easier” and undermine the importance of marriage.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Gauke said: “There will be, for example, people who currently are waiting for two or five years for a divorce and that divorce will be brought forward.

“So, the likelihood is there will be an increase because of, if you like, that waiting list.

“But the international evidence suggests that once that initial spike has been dealt with – in a steady state – the divorce rate is unlikely to increase and it is likely to remain much the same.”

Mr Gauke said the current system of “making allegations” does not serve the public interest.

He added: “It needlessly rakes up the past to justify the legal ending of a relationship that is no longer a beneficial or functional one.

“At worst, these allegations can pit one parent against the other.

“I remain deeply concerned that what the existing law requires can be especially damaging for children.”

Later, he said: “The reforms I have set out today will deliver a system of divorce that is fit for the 21st century.

“It is time to end the blame game.”

Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon said the current fault-based system needs to be changed.

He said the current system could increase the risk of domestic violence if unhappy couples are kept together in a “fractious” environment.

He said: “Establishing one of the three faults – adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion – can be difficult, and often heightens tensions, as has been stated, at an already stressful time.

“We know the hurt this heightened tension can all too often cause. There are widespread concerns about the increased risk faced by women of domestic violence going through this fractious process.”

Some MPs, however, were concerned that the proposed changes would make it too easy to get divorced.

Ms Bruce said: “I sadly believe it will make divorce easier. Why do I say that? Simply because it will allow one party to walk away from the most important commitment they are likely to have made in their lifetime without giving any reason at all, and without their spouse being able to meaningfully object.”

She added: “I am particularly concerned about the signals being sent out by this Bill to young people today.

“It sends out a signal that marriage can be unilaterally exited on notice by one party with little if any recourse for the party that has been left. A signal, I fear, that marriage need no longer be entered into with the intention of it being a life-long commitment as it is today.”

MPs gave the Bill an unopposed second reading and it will undergo further scrutiny at a later date.

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