|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Duke of Norfolk: My Lords, I strongly support the amendment. The existence of children, especially teenage children, will have a great effect on whether a divorce takes place. To put it in the simplest terms, teenage children are powerful marriage counsellors. They have a great effect on what their mother and father are about to do.
I am talking about children and the length of time needed to counsel a couple to stay together. Counselling is vital and we shall be talking about it later. It is different from mediation. Mediation is in the hands of lawyers. Mediators should in no way be confused with counsellors. Counsellors belong to the organisations about which we know and which we hope will be supported with much more money in the hope that they might avert the divorce.
The children's grandmothers and grandfathers, and possibly the older brothers and sisters of the couple whose marriage is in difficulties may have to return from abroad. All that demands much more time to help save the marriage. The period of 18 months suggested by my noble friend Lady Young is wise. It is not a long time. I have known of cases where older brothers and sisters are in Australia or America. They have to come back and they might have a great deal of influence on the family. I hope that my noble and learned friend will think about this carefully. The suggestion of an 18-month period is a valuable one that my noble friend has put into the minds of noble Lords.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. The House will be aware of my views about the Bill generally. Of course, I was extremely disappointed that the amendments retaining fault were not carried. The amendment may be the next best thing. As has been pointed out, the position should be different where the couple is agreeable to a divorce from the case where only one partner to the marriage wishes to have a divorce. As was pointed out by the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, in the case of children more time is needed to make settlements which are satisfactory to them.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that a year is a long time. In actual fact, a year is a very short time when you have such arrangements to make. Furthermore, in relation to reconciliation and to second thoughts it is a short time too. Therefore, in a case in which only one party has given notice of a divorce, or where children are involved, an extension of time to 18 months would be most beneficial. I would have thought that when we are making such a huge difference to the divorce law, and when there is no great public demand for it, the least we could do would be to pass this amendment.
That would go some way to assuage the fears not only of Members of this House but of people outside about the effects of the Bill on marriage generally, and about the messages which are being sent in particular to young people about marriage and lasting and loving relationships. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the
Lord Shaw of Northstead: My Lords, I have listened to the whole debate today and the one thing that has become clear, if it was not clear already, is that we are dealing with a Bill in which there are no absolutes. Distress is inherent in the whole Bill. The variety of ways in which distress can be shown to arise is infinite. In my opinion, one will never find a perfect answer to the many problems.
I am afraid it is in that light that I look at the amendment. I understand the deep feelings that arise, in particular when children are involved. However, I find it difficult to believe that the extension of the period to 18 months where children are concerned is appropriate. It is not easy to decide the matter. I approached a counsellor and put it to her. She agreed with me that one must do one's best to reach a resolution on such a painful matter as quickly as possible. By dragging it out one would do more harm than good.
There may well be exceptional cases and my noble friend raised such possibilities today. However, surely in most cases the attempt to obtain a divorce does not come suddenly out of the blue. The desire has been building up and building up with it have been thoughts about what will happen to the children. I believe that once the process of divorce has begun and the situation has reached that stage the matter should be dealt with as quickly as possible in the interests of the children. Having said that, I understand the deep feelings that there are on all sides of the House and the different views that are expressed. At present I must confess that I believe that the single year should apply in all cases.
Lord Monson: My Lords, it seems to me that the merits of the amendment lie partly in its probable practical consequences which were spelt out so clearly by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in her introduction but also in the strong signal that it would send to the nation at large; namely, that while the state of marriage is always important and significant, where dependent children are concerned it is doubly so.
Accordingly, while there should never be any question in a free society of preventing the dissolution of such a marriage, dissolution should nevertheless be discouraged by the erection of an extra hurdle, even if it is only the relatively low hurdle which this amendment proposes.
However, there is one very small problem. As drafted, the amendment does not refer to dependent children but to the children of the marriage. Clause 19, the interpretation clause, defines children of the marriage as being identical to the definition contained in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. I looked at that Act and it was rather unclear and ambiguous. I then went to look at Halsbury's Laws of England, which thankfully was not ambiguous at all. That states categorically that the
There is very little on the face of this Bill to distinguish clearly between a marriage which has children as against a marriage without children. I have maintained before and I maintain again that spouses or partners who decide to bring a child into the world, or even where they bring a child into the world through carelessness, bring upon themselves a grave responsibility. They take upon their marriage and take upon each of them an additional responsibility.
If that is true, I ask myself whether it can make sense for the Bill to treat the young childless couple experimenting with marriage in the same way as a couple who have taken upon themselves the responsibilities of parenthood. I think not.
I have considered the various ways in which the Bill can send out the message that children matter. The conclusion that I have reached, perhaps wrongly, is that the best way in which that can be done is that the period for reflection should be somewhat longer when there are children because the decision is that much graver.
I admit that I was tempted to extend the time to two years but I constrained myself. When an extension of the period for reflection was suggested at an earlier stage of the Bill, a certain amount of play was put on the idea that it was punishment. I do not think that it is punishment but I believe that it may be discouragement. It will certainly not save all marriages but it may help to save some.
There is usually a moment in any marriage when one of the partners wonders whether the grass may be greener on the other side of the fence. If a third party comes on the scene, the marriage can be in trouble. Extra time for reflection gives more time for the new romance to show itself as a brief encounter. If there is longer to wait, there is a very real possibility that the intruder may get bored and go away. A marriage is more than just a relationship; it is also a partnership. It is a partnership formed to do two jobs: to bring up children and to support one another into old age. Relationships will always have ups and downs--they will always have blips--but if the partnership holds to its purpose in very many cases the relationship will work itself out again, perhaps changed, perhaps even enriched. But it takes time.
Baroness Elles: My Lords, I am sorry to inject a note of feminism into this debate, because I strongly support the amendment introduced by my noble friend Lady Young to extend, where there are children, a period of waiting to 18 months. I referred to a note of feminism because it is mostly the men in this House who have spoken, and they perhaps forget that after the first year of marriage women are apt to have babies; and if you are a woman with a small child or newborn baby the chances of disruption of the marriage at that stage are of course very great. If you are a woman with a small baby trying to manage on her own or with her husband away, you can get great disturbances between husband and wife, particularly at that early stage of marriage. How a wife with a small baby can be expected to attend mediation meetings and deal with attempts possibly to be divorced by her husband is difficult to understand. I do not want to go at great length into this, but I think I have made the point that where a woman is at home with a baby and trying to look after that child at an early stage of her married life, that is the time when a great many difficulties as between husband and wife arise. I would have thought this was exactly the case where some extension of time should be granted. It would apply there as well as to our other examples where there are children of the family up to the age of 16 or 18. I very much hope that my noble and learned friend might feel that this rather "housebound" view might be taken into account as regards the extension of the period from one year to 18 months in such cases.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page