The divorce rate is often held up as proof of social breakdown. Asides from the collapse of the nuclear family and bringing misery on former spouses and their children, it represents the triumph of selfish individualism over responsibility and self-sacrifice. Divorce is often painful, especially where children are involved. However, if people are definitively committed to divorce, staying married could be even worse.
Still, the fact that forty percent of marriages now end in divorce can be taken as proof that the process is too easy. But is it? England and Wales do not have ‘no faults divorce’. Unless you separate for two years and agree to end the marriage (or five without agreement), some form of proven fault on one side is necessary, whether this is adultery, desertion, or unreasonable behaviour.
In some cases this is easy to establish and it is fair to blame one party. Proving unreasonable behaviour is not especially hard, given the wide and vague definition. As far as the actual divorce goes, it is not difficult, not withstanding the recently increased court fee, presumably intended as a disincentive.
The current rules become problematic when dividing financial assets and reaching agreement about childcare and access. Given the usual need for fault on the part of one party, any acrimony is exacerbated and the person taking the blame is at an automatic disadvantage. Where unreasonable behaviour is emotional or physical abuse, this is fair.
However, as one party can simply concede their ‘unreasonable behaviour’ to speed up the process, it can create unnecessary unfairness and resentment. In other cases, where both parties have been at fault this can incentivise a race to pin blame first and most squarely.
A positive step would be to allow a marriage to be dissolved unilaterally without the need for justification, so long as there are no children under eighteen. Even in child cases, a less protracted and more harmonious process can only be positive, and it is unlikely that children benefit from having two parents living together who openly despise each other. The separation period could be reduced to one year with agreement and two without, given that by this stage the family has already broken down.
Where there are no underage children, there is no reason for obstacles to divorce. The idea that all committed, meaningful relationships have to last forever is rather odd. For many people, it works, and is wonderful. But, others may find a marriage attractive at one stage of their life, and, without fault, simply not feel this way later.
In general, a high churn rate is a healthy indicator. People change service providers and employer regularly. They are happy with one for a period, but due to their priorities or situation, or the other party’s terms, changing they are free to exit and choose something they prefer under new conditions. There is no reason marriages should not work more like this.