Stoke-on-Trent MP Jonathan Gullis has spoken of his ‘painful’ divorce, during a parliamentary debate on a bid to reform the process.
MPs overwhelmingly backed a bill to introduce ‘no-fault’ divorces in England and Wales, which would remove the requirement for spouses to accuse their partner of adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion.
Under the proposed rules, they would only have to state that their marriage had undergone an irretrievable break-down.
Mr Gullis, the Conservative MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, said he had been personally affected by the existing law, as he had to blame his partner during their divorce.
He revealed this while intervening in Justice Secretary Robert Buckland’s opening speech, at the start of the debate in the House of Commons.
Mr Gullis said: “As someone who is tragically going through the divorce process and has had to put blame on my partner when I would have preferred to have had a no-fault divorce, I ask my right honorable and learned friend to reaffirm the message that this is, in no way, a quick decision.
“As someone going through this process, I can say how painful it is. It was not a decision that I came to easily, but this type of legislation would not require the burden of guilt to be applied to one person or the other.”
Mr Buckland agreed with his point and thanked Mr Gullis for sharing a ‘difficult and sensitive experience’.
Want a free daily bulletin – plus breaking news alerts direct to your inbox? Then sign up to our email newsletter service by clicking here.
Or you can type your email address into the ‘sign up to free daily alerts’ box. It’s at the top of this article.
It’s also on any stories on the website – simply click ‘subscribe’ and you can expect your first newsletter at the next release.
Want to know more before you sign up? Click here.
Decide later that you no longer wish to receive the emails? No problem – you can just follow the unsubscribe link.
At the moment, the only way someone can secure a divorce without the consent of their partner is for them to have lived apart for five years or more.
Otherwise, a contested divorce can often deteriorate into a ‘blame game’ between the partners, due to the requirement to prove wrongdoing.
The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bil would remove the right to contest the decision, and would also introduce the option of partners jointly applying for divorce. Under the proposed rules, there would be a minimum six month period between the application and the divorce being made final.
MPs voted to give the bill its second reading by 231 votes to 16.
Mr Gullis, whose own parents divorced when he was a child, described the reform as an ‘important step forward’.
He said: “When I say that it is time to modernise, I am not doing down marriage in any way whatever. When a person enters into a marriage, they do so thinking about the lifelong impact that it will have on them. The same applies when they take the tragic decision to divorce.
“They come to realise and understand the pain and suffering that it will cause them, their partner, and, obviously, any children that they may have. The decision is not taken lightly in any shape or form.”
Fiona Bruce, Conservative MP for Congleton, was among the handful of MPs to vote against the bill.
She argued that making divorces ‘quicker and easier’ would undermine ‘the assumed permanence of marriage’, and claimed it would leave spouses with fewer protections than workers receive under employment law.
Mrs Bruce said: “The government make great play of the fact that removing any reason for a marriage breakdown will improve children’s life chances. This simply does not acknowledge that it is the very fact of parental separation which can be, and often is, an adverse childhood experience with long-term consequences.
“Moreover, the break-up of a low-conflict family can be just as, if not more, harmful to a child than a high-conflict one. Children who do not see conflict played out in front of them can be more likely to blame themselves when parents separate or assume they cannot rely on relationships, as they are likely to end for no apparent reason, and that family breakdown is more or less inevitable, with the sad consequence of their repeating that behaviour in their own lives.
“There is likely to be an immediate increase in divorces – a spike that could last for a decade or more. People experiencing marital difficulties in the coronavirus crisis may be more likely to bail out following the introduction of no-fault divorce, under the impression that divorce is being made easier. Some of those marriages may well be saveable.”
The bill, which has already been passed by the House of Lords, will now go to the committee stage in the Commons.