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Baroness Young: I wish to speak briefly because this amendment is linked to those which we have just been debating. I hope that when my noble and learned friend replies he will consider this amendment--which addresses a slightly different point from those which I addressed--in the context of the whole issue of extending the time.

I understand the object of my noble friend Lord Coleraine. The amendment's effect will be to ensure that the period for reflection and consideration will begin only when the other party has been informed and notice has been served in accordance with the rules of the court. I hope that what I say is correct.

Lord Coleraine: I believe that the noble Baroness is addressing another amendment which still has to be moved.

Baroness Young: I apologise to the Committee. In the excitement of all the amendments and the amount of paper with which I am surrounded I made a mistake. However, I hope that my noble and learned friend will consider the amendment with the others.

The Lord Chancellor: I have addressed the principle of the amendment in what I said on the previous one.

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I believe that there may be special circumstances where the parties do not both accept that the marriage has broken down. Merely to make consent vital within the period is to ignore the nature of marriage as requiring continued commitment. It seems to me that the responsibilities associated with marriage require to be carefully considered.

Is it suggested that in the non-consent case the period of three years will realistically be taken up by a kind of consideration? I do not know how likely that is. If the period is reasonable for consent, how does it become too short for considering matters where the parties do not consent? I understand that in some circumstances the settlement of outstanding issues between the parties may take longer than a year. Where there is no consent that may be so, but the present provisions in the Bill try to take account of that. I do not understand how a different period for cases of non-consent is justified by reference to what would take place in the longer period.

My noble friend asked about the basis for various matters referred to in the White Paper. At this stage in such a debate it is important to focus on the point which appears to me to be vital. It is that unnecessary trauma introduced into the divorce process is damaging or apt to be damaging to the relationship between the parents being divorced and the children. Therefore, it is not directly relevant to consider other matters. We are discussing what the divorce procedure should be and in that context it appears to me that the evidence shows that the relationship with both parents is important after the divorce. It is vital at this stage that we do nothing to damage that, on the assumption that the divorce will take place.

For that purpose, one compares the situation of two families, both of whom have been divorced in different situations. The first is where the divorce process has generated unnecessary conflict between the spouses. I am not saying that there will not be conflict, trauma or bitterness between the spouses. If we compare the situation where the divorce process has generated unnecessary conflict between the parties with the situation where it has not, the relationship between the parents and the children after the divorce is likely to be better in the case where there is no unnecessary trauma than in the first example.

I do not wish to quote all of the evidence on this matter, but I refer to the Exeter Family Study to which repeated reference has been made. The situation of conflict is described in the following way:

    "The data from this study shows that the particular outcomes measured for the study children tended to be worse in intact families with high levels of conflict between the parents than in families where conflict levels were low. In agreement with nearly all other studies, the data also suggests that violence in the family has a strong association with low self-image and other poor outcomes. It is likely, moreover, that both conflict and violence are under-reported in the intact family group.

    In this study, however, it was possible to compare the effects of family disruption on children in re-ordered families with those of conflict and/or violence on children living in intact families. From the multivariate analysis carried out, it appeared that the most significant factor of those examined was the re-ordering of the family--the loss of a parent on one or more occasions--rather than the presence of serious conflict or violence that was most closely associated with children's poorer outcomes as measured. This is

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    consistent with a recent study in Oregon, which found a cumulative and linear relationship between behavioural measures in a group of boys and the number of family transitions that they had undergone. In the present research, violence in the past relationship between the child's biological parents was reported by seven out of 19 resident parents in the re-disrupted families".

I continue:

    "Meanwhile, it is clear from previous work that it is not the loss of a parent per se that appears to be associated with a poor outcome. The outcomes associated with loss of a parent by marital breakdown are different and generally more adverse in the long-term than those associated with bereavement.

    It is also clear that where major conflict and intra-family violence has been a feature of the marital relationship, the act of separation is often accompanied by immense relief for those who have been the victims or observers of the violence. It would follow from an understanding of the psychological processes involved that the children would experience a stability after the ending of a violent parental relationship which would enhance their well-being, at least in the short term. But the response is complex. Children's relief is also often tempered by concerns about the non-resident parent who may, or may not, have been violent to the child and may, or may not, have been a 'good parent'. The importance of the relationship with the non-resident parent, usually the father, has been written about extensively, particularly by Richards [and others], and is confirmed by the data from this study. Children expressed concerns about the non-resident parent being on their own and not having anywhere to live. Children were also concerned if contract arrangements were nebulous, and did not always find it easy to discuss the concerns for one parent with the other. Richards' study underlines the importance to the child of the biological parent, whether the family live together or not".

I cannot read out the whole of the report because it is obviously lengthy. I should like to read just one other passage on pages 57 and 58:

    "What the data does not show, however, and did not set out to demonstrate, is whether the outcomes would have been better if parents in unhappy marriages had stayed together 'for the sake of the children' instead of separating".

There is a lot to study in the report, but I take from it the important point that where divorce is postulated a good relationship with both parents should subsist after the divorce, and everything that we can possibly do to secure that is well worth doing.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I am interested in what the Lord Chancellor has just said. I shall have to look at the quotations from the Exeter report. They appear to give support to the amendments that we are now discussing. I should like to reiterate what I said yesterday about the family and agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, has said today. The important point with which I and the noble Lord are concerned is that marriage is a contract between two people and made before people. It is a contract which they have freely entered into, and presumably it is one that they mean to keep. What concerns me, and I believe many other noble Lords, is that one party can unilaterally abrogate the contract no matter what the circumstances.

There are circumstances in which delay is desirable and will save the marriage. My present marriage has lasted 35 years, and a very good marriage it has been. Undoubtedly, one passes through various periods when one feels that one has had enough of it and it is time to

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go. (I do not speak here of my own marriage). After a little while things may get better and the parties may say thank God they did not take the final step.

There are periods in people's lives when their health is different. There are periods in women's lives which are extremely difficult and need to be sympathetically dealt with. Where only one party to the marriage has expressed a desire for a divorce, sometimes for his or her sake it is better if the other party, who perhaps has had years of experience of living with that person, says that he or she does not want that to happen in such a short period as a year. This amendment is helpful because it will extend the period so that a party who says he or she wants to end the arrangement into which he or she has freely entered is given the opportunity for second thoughts.

Time is very important. I believe that the year's notice is insufficient, certainly where only one party has given notice. We have already heard the argument about whether a year is sufficient if both parties are agreeable, but in the case of one party I believe that one year is insufficient. There is no time for various ideas to be worked out, and it is not fair to the other party anyway. I believe that these amendments should be supported.

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