Reforms to divorce law 'effective abolition of marriage vow', says MP

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Government reforms to divorce laws were condemned on Monday night as “the effective abolition of the marriage vow” by an MP who worked for Boris Johnson in Downing Street until eight months ago as they passed a major hurdle in the House of Commons.

MPs voted to approve changes which mean that a ‘no fault’ divorce could be granted to a couple after a wait of just six months rather than after a separation by agreement lasting two years.

The changes also allow one partner to instigate divorce proceedings and start a 20 week “reflection period” before the divorce can be granted, without notifying their spouse.

Tory MPs have condemned the reforms as ill-timed because many marriages are under stress in the coronavirus lockdown.

Danny Kruger, who was elected as MP for Devizes in December’s election, told the Commons last night: “What is really proposed here isn’t just a speeding up of no-fault divorce, but the effective abolition of the marriage vow.

“In trying to remove hypocrisy at the end of marriage, we are introducing hypocrisy at the start. In the attempt to improve the integrity of the law the Government is undermining the integrity of marriage.”

Mr Kruger, who was Mr Johnson’s political secretary in 10 Downing St until November last year, was one of 12 Conservative MPs who voted against the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill at second reading in the Commons, including Robin Millar, Philip Davies, Sir Christopher Chope, Sally-Ann Hart, Sir John Hayes and Fiona Bruce.

Their rebellion failed to stop the Bill progressing as it was approved at second reading by 231 votes to 16, majority 215.

The rebels claimed another 30 Tory MPs asked Government whips to be allowed to abstain so they would not have to vote in favour of the legislation.

During the debate Tory MP Sir John Hayes said the reform “reduces marriage to the legal status of a tenancy contract” while Sir Desmond Swayne said he fears “by making divorce more straightforward and easier it becomes the first resort rather than the last resort”.

For the Government, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland insisted the divorce laws will end so-called “quickie divorces” and make separation “less traumatic”.

Currently in England and Wales, unless someone can prove there was adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion, the only way to obtain a divorce without their spouse’s agreement is to live apart for five years.

During the second reading debate, Mr Buckland said: “No-one sets out thinking that their marriage is going to end, no-one wants their marriage to break down, none of us are therefore indifferent when a couple’s lifelong commitment has sadly deteriorated.

“It is a very sad circumstance but the law, I believe, should reduce conflict when it arises. Where divorce is inevitable, this Bill seeks to make the legal process less painful, less traumatic.”

Shadow justice secretary David Lammy said Labour said the Bill offered  “a common sense approach that continues to respect the institution of marriage and civil partnerships but avoids unnecessary antagonism and cost for people dealing with an often incredibly difficult time in their lives”.

The Bill will now proceed for further scrutiny by MPs.

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