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Is No-Fault Divorce Really As Good For Families As It Sounds?

By Portia Berry-Kilby··  6 min read
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At the beginning of April, England and Wales introduced a landmark legal change: no-fault divorce.

This means that neither party needs to be blamed for a struggling marriage to secure a divorce; either spouse just needs to say the marriage has broken down irretrievably. Whereas previously it was necessary to show that one party had acted beyond the pale in order to untie the knot, now no such tangible error need be identified. 

So does this legal change make the cynicism of Bruno Mars's "Marry Me," in which “If we wake up and you wanna break up, that's cool,” a reality? Or is doing away with the “blame game” of divorce just the most civil way of separating from the hip? Does an end to finger-wagging trump the erosion of family stability?

The Arguments for No-Fault Divorce

“Let’s not argue.”

One clear element of the case for no-fault divorce is its appeal to our dislike for conflict. Reduced conflict between the couple is one of the motivating reasons for the law change. And who doesn’t love to avoid an argument? When couples have to apportion blame for the divorce, it’s expected that the break-up will be messier than otherwise. But with this change, no one has to be at fault. With the new law introducing only limited opportunities to contest a divorce, the amount of in-court fighting will be slashed. And, for that matter, so will the bills for the bit of paper declaring a divorce. Fewer fights and more money in the bank? It’s easy to see the attractiveness of the law.  

“Let’s be happy.”

The no-fault divorce also appeals to our emotions. A joyless, loveless marriage might make for a great period-drama plot, but not for real life. We realize that people need and desire healthy relationships and that overall fulfillment will inevitably take a hit when a relationship turns sour. No-fault divorce supposedly offers a quick fix for mutual misery and promises a chance for finding the (next) love of one’s life. 

No-fault divorce supposedly offers a quick fix for mutual misery.

“Think of the children.”

Advocates also point to the emotional impact on children who suffer through years of parental in-fighting and bitterness to justify this legal reform. No-fault divorce offers an easy out without dragging kids through lengthy court procedures and finger-wagging. Even if a party is to blame for the marriage breakdown, no-fault divorce offers a way out with increased discretion. And, in the case of abusive relationships, doing away with grounds to contest a divorce provides greater security of safety and freedom for the abused, with a guaranteed outcome. 

The Problems with No-Fault Divorce

In the face of such emotive pleas, do only the hardened of heart oppose no-fault divorce? Why is no-fault divorce not met with a universal acceptance? Well, the above arguments are somewhat red herrings. 

Marriage Takes Work

I’m not going to patronize you by over-explaining why, for many, marriage isn’t just about happiness and an easy life. We recognize that good things in life take hard work, and life is a continuous cycle of ups and downs. And marriage is no different. 

When one half of a couple can say they’ve had enough and no longer want to persevere, our resilience in times of difficulty will only falter further, and the hope of getting through a rough patch together is threatened. No-fault divorce shifts the focus away from being committed to marriage to only being committed to a person. Inevitably, even the love of our life will hurt us. Recognizing that marriage is a good in and of itself (and not to be written off with a one-sided whim) is vital to lasting success and overcoming the guaranteed niggles a partner poses.

Marriage Is Based on Life-Long Commitment

No-fault divorce almost cheapens what newlyweds sign themselves up for. While I hold on to the traditional view that marriage is life-long, those around us increasingly do not. It’s disappointing when society flippantly dismisses the idea of staying together through thick and thin, and becomes further removed from the gravity of the commitment young couples might make to one another. Standing before others and saying “I do” isn’t quite so inspiring if it can be followed by “I don’t” a short while later.  

Standing before others and saying “I do” isn’t quite so inspiring if it can be later followed by “I don’t.”  

In the face of no-fault divorce, couples might fear insecurity and lack of genuine commitment as they walk down the aisle. With no-fault divorce in the picture, what makes marriage any different from cohabitating? 

Far from hindering couples, legal hurdles surrounding divorce often offer greater security within marriage as well as greater motivation to try and make it work when the going gets tough. For when one spouse’s faith in marriage falters, the legal bureaucracy can provide an extra layer of security and time in which to sort things out. 

Marriage Is Good for Kids and Society

Marriage offers extra security for any children involved. While it’s nice to avoid airing your dirty laundry in front of the kids, it’s the little ones who ultimately suffer when divorce happens. A recent study even found that divorce is more detrimental to a child’s educational development than a death in the family. A divorce for the sake of the children might not be the strongest train of thought, after all. 

No-fault divorce also ignores how women and children are negatively impacted, as well as the value marriage brings to society as a whole. As the glue of society, promoting a quick exit from such an important foundational unit of thriving and healthy communities poses a problem for the long term and wider societal impact.

Closing Thoughts

It’s undeniable that no-fault divorce could help prevent conflict for many couples and children, and smooth out navigating an otherwise difficult legal procedure. But this doesn’t necessarily make for a good long-term option. We also can’t ignore what legal reforms convey to society as a whole. In the case of no-fault divorce, is this yet another challenge to promoting loving and lasting relationships in society? Only time will tell whether young people will value marriage as a life-long commitment or start internalizing Bruno Mars’s hit song and view it as “something dumb to do,” now with its very own get-out clause. 

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