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Lord Irvine of Lairg: My Lords, I take the view that a year for reflection and consideration is enough in all cases, which I understand to have been the Government's considered conclusion in all cases. The argument that it should be 18 months in cases where there are children cannot be justified on the basis that divorce should be made more difficult for its own sake in such cases, as distinct from the argument that a further six months is required in these cases where there are children for better reflection and consideration.

I noted that when the noble Baroness, Lady Young, argued for fault-based divorce earlier in our proceedings today, as distinct from divorce based on irreparable breakdown, she argued that even if fault--a remedy she recommended--was made out, a "quickie" divorce should be precluded--that is to say, a party who was genuinely at fault who made out that fault-based remedy

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should be kept out of that remedy and not granted it promptly by the courts. As I recall, she even recommended that regulations for the aid of the expedition of court proceedings should be repealed. If your Lordships had acceded to that, it would have been a unique legislative contribution to the law's delays.

The proposition is that there should be an extension of the period of one year, "for reflection and consideration", to 18 months where children are involved. I can agree with the noble Baroness to this extent: there is very much more to reflect and consider about when children are involved than when they are not. But I am unpersuaded that a further period of time is required for that purpose when there are children of the marriage. On the contrary, I believe that the further delay entailed in an extension of six months would be likely to prejudice the children by increasing the uncertainty of what is to happen to their parents' lives. Therefore, as I said, I am unpersuaded and oppose the amendment.

Lord Clifford of Chudleigh: My Lords, we have heard quite a few statistics this evening; indeed, we have already heard about the findings of the MORI poll commissioned by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I should like to reiterate what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said earlier about the 20,000 to 30,000 people who each year petition for a divorce and then, before going through with the process, turn back because they have had a period in which to reflect.

I should like to make one further small point. Most noble Lords present seem to have forgotten the findings of the Exeter child report. Who are noble Lords to say that a year is enough? If noble Lords had only read that report, they would have seen that children would far prefer to stay within a family household. We are quibbling about a period of five years, but children would far prefer to stay in the family household. Possibly they would see their mother and father quarrelling but at the same time they would feel secure. Noble Lords are adults, not children. They should listen to the findings of those people who were commissioned to take the feelings of the children on board. They are in writing. If noble Lords had the time to look at the report, they would learn before opening their mouths in this Chamber.

It has been said, and repeated quite often, that mediation is not reconciliation. It is in fact a kind of quasi-litigation. The mediator will mediate for the parties in settling the contact with the children and the property of the marriage. It is true to say that the Bill allows for the mediation period to come to a halt in the event that reconciliation becomes a possibility.

In addition, I should like to welcome the recently tabled amendment of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor which will require the mediators to give much more thought and consideration to the possibility of reconciliation. Nevertheless, there remains the need for a period specifically devoted to reconciliation so that the parties have time to reflect and to consider in the knowledge that no property or financial orders will be made--except, of course, interim orders--which might render reconciliation

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difficult or even impossible. With all those facts in mind, I totally support everything put forward by the noble Baroness in her amendment.

Earl Russell: My Lords, perhaps I may, first, assure the noble Lord, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, that I have read the Exeter study with a great deal of interest and care. However, I am not persuaded by its statistical methods. I have discussed that point with the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, both inside and outside the Chamber. I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not do so again at this time of night.

I wish to draw attention to one point in the drafting of Amendment No. 27. In paragraph (a) there is a reference to where,

    "there are no children of the family".

Does this mean minor children, or does it also cover children of 25 or 30 years of age? That is a point which I think ought to be clarified before the House ultimately comes to decide on this matter.

The new thing about this Bill is that it imposes a year's delay. That is a point of some importance. I understand that the purpose of that is to prevent divorce in hot blood. There is something relative about the passage of time. Any of your Lordships who have been, as I have, at the wheel of a car whose brakes have failed unexpectedly will know that in those circumstances 10 seconds can be a long time. Equally, I am sure the noble and learned Lord will confirm that in the drafting and preparation of a parliamentary Bill one year can be a short time. The question is: what is the appropriate clock? I was advised when I was a young man that should I wish to break off an engagement or similar relationship, the length of time I needed to keep out of the person's way would be about six months--I think there was sense in that advice--which would then give a further six months for working out what I really felt when left to myself. I really do not see that the extra six months on top of that are necessary and I would rather the Bill remains as it is.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, in the grouping we are discussing I much prefer Amendments Nos. 29 and 36 which have already been spoken to by my noble friend Lord Northbourne. Turning to Amendment No. 27, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, may have explained the last three lines of that amendment. That explanation is not immediately apparent on the face of the amendment. Had it been suggested in the amendment that the time could be used for efforts at reconciliation or for marriage counselling, or for something of that sort, I would have understood it, but in the stark form in which it appears it seems to me to be something like an incentive for doing nothing.

Baroness Faithfull: My Lords, I prefer the one-year period to the 18 months for two reasons. First, uncertainty is a bad thing for children, particularly at times of distress and worry. Secondly, that period will not mark the beginning of the period of distress. There will have been trouble and uncertainty for long before that--probably a year, perhaps even longer. I prefer to

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keep the period of one year. Perhaps we should be more flexible and give the court the option of extending the period in certain circumstances.

Lord Moran: My Lords, at Second Reading I said I was not worried about couples who did not have dependent children divorcing but that I was deeply concerned about the effects of the Bill on children. It is important and useful that these amendments draw a distinction between couples with children and those without. I should not mind reducing the period for couples without children below one year, but for couples with children it is important that they should have time both for reconciliation efforts to be made to save the marriage and for the requirements of mediation and all the business of dealing with custody and the division of the assets. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, argued persuasively, 18 months is a reasonable compromise, which I support. I am also attracted by the case for Amendment No. 36 put persuasively by my noble friend Lord Northbourne. I think 18 months is the right period and I hope that we shall go for it.

Lord Habgood: My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken has neatly illustrated my fear about this amendment; namely, that it traduces us to the concept of two classes of marriage--a marriage in which people are willing to consent to dissolve it when they have no children and a marriage in which there are other responsibilities. That seems to me to put us on a very slippery slope. The noble Lord has just illustrated that by saying that in the first category we can reduce the period below one year.

I believe that the Bill ought to indicate that a marriage is a marriage is a marriage, whether or not one has responsibilities for children. It takes time to dissolve any marriage. The fact that the period is the same for all marriages--whether it is a year or 18 months--says something very important about the status of marriage itself, quite apart from the additional responsibilities marriage may give us.

Lord Burnham: I should like to follow up the thesis of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, concerning the relative period of time of which we are speaking in every case.

With the exception of a few of my noble friends on the Front Bench, your Lordships are all old and grey. As a result, to us a year is a very short time. To the child, a year is a very long time indeed. As my noble friend pointed out, the trauma, unpleasantness and difficulties that arise out of a divorce do not begin at the moment when the period of a year or 18 months starts; they have been going on for a long time. The children are in distress. They are unhappy about the relationship between their parents. They have probably been unhappy for a long time before the period starts. From that point on, a year is an age to them. It is quite enough.

11 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor: As my noble friend Lady Young explained, the amendment is put forward in a

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constructive spirit. I appreciate that. On the other hand, we ought to seek to be guided so far as we can by principle in this matter.

I submit to the Committee that the question of whether a marriage has broken down is one that ought to be tested by a given period of time. It is true that where there are children there will be a need to make arrangements for the children. The Bill proposes that those arrangements must be made, in general, before a divorce is granted. Therefore, where time is required to make the arrangements that time is provided for in the Bill. It may well be longer than a year in some cases. It certainly cannot be less than a year, because the minimum period is the year for reflection and consideration. I submit that there is a proper period for that purpose, which one has to decide upon. That purpose applies to all marriages. It is not affected by whether or not there are children of the marriage.

I agree entirely that where there are children of the marriage there are additional responsibilities, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, pointed out. The Bill takes full account of that in requiring that arrangements for children have to be made before the divorce is granted.

One of the matters we have to take into account is the effect of uncertainty upon children. This is a matter which has already been the subject of a good deal of comment by the Committee. In that situation, it seems to me as a matter of principle that it cannot be right to require that, just because there are children, those children should be subjected to a longer period of stress than is necessary for the purpose of determining that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. One has to try to be guided by principle in this matter. I, of course, had this in mind when we consulted on the Green Paper as a result of taking up this problem. I had the impression from the consultation that a clear majority of our consultees did not favour the imposition of a longer period if there were children. These are matters of judgment.

Your Lordships may have received briefing circulated on behalf of OneplusOne, the marriage and partnership research charity, in which Dr. Jack Dominian plays a very important role as an experienced researcher and adviser in this area. Writing on behalf of OneplusOne and of the director of the Jewish Marriage Council, the chief executive of Relate, the director of the Tavistock Marital Studies Institute, and Mary Corbett, the chief executive of Marriage Care, the director comments on the amendment to extend the period to 18 months where the statement of marriage breakdown is made by one party or where there are children of the marriage:

    "The proposal for a period of reflection sends out a very important message--that the decision to divorce is a serious step and has profound implications for the parties and their families.

    "Given this opportunity to consider the future, many couples will need the skilled help of marriage counselling and mediation to help them".

I wish particularly to emphasise the third point:

    "There is no right time for all couples: however, the law must provide a justifiable definition of the length of this period".

That is the period during which to decide that there is irretrievable breakdown.

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The briefing continues:

    "One year seems to us to be long enough for couples who are unsure about divorce to reconsider their position and explore the possibilities of reconciliation and not too long for those (especially children) who are caught in an intolerable situation as a result of marital breakdown".

In the light of those considerations, and as a result of the consultation which we undertook, I feel that the period of a year which ultimately we decided upon is right.

I also point out that my amendments embrace the early part of this amendment, which makes the period of reflection and consideration begin on the 14th day after the statement was received by the court, as Amendment No. 27 proposes.

So far as concerns the last part of the amendment, I submit to your Lordships that the period is one which ought to have a purpose throughout and any encouragement not to use the period fully for the purposes for which it is provided might well detract from its success for those purposes.

Accordingly, I invite your Lordships to hold to the period as stated in the Bill. This is, of course, very much a matter of conscience, and, therefore, it is a matter, so far as we are concerned, for a free vote.

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