Expected Outcomes of Changes in the UK Marriage Laws 2019
Unexpectedly, same-sex marriage might force Northern Ireland to have a government again
England, Wales and Scotland all legalized same-sex unions in 2014. The Republic of Ireland voted in a referendum to legalize it in 2015. Northern Ireland remains one of the few territories within the EU zone that still bans same-sex marriages. Northern Ireland however possesses its own parliament, and their own independent judiciary and court system, though the highest court of appeal remains the UK Supreme Court. Northern Ireland also has its own unique issues, such as the fact that it doesn’t quite have a government right now.
The British Parliament decided to slide past the collapsed Northern Irish Assembly to force the government of Northern Ireland to legalize both abortion and same-sex marriages. Landslide votes in the House of Commons do not yet automatically change the law in Northern Ireland. However, since the Assembly in Stormont, East Belfast remains defunct since its collapse in 2017, if this assembly doesn’t resume its duties by the deadline of October 21, the amendments will stand and come to force.
MPs from the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) voted against and argued that the parliament in London was drastically overreaching their grasp and such matters should remain to be resolved by Stormont. And they will. If the DUP and Sinn Fein could come back to terms in the assembly and restore the government.
Unexpectedly, many different-sex couples want to have the right to have Civil Partnerships over Marriage too
Prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage in the UK, there was Civil Partnership Act 2004 that allowed them to enter into civil partnerships rather than marriages. Over time the rights assigned to civil partnerships have been much the same as marriage. Unexpectedly, it was raised that the Civil Partnerships Act 2004 might be against the EU Convention on Human Rights for being discriminatory.
The Civil Partnerships, Marriage and Deaths (Registration etc.) Act 2019 will formalize options allowed to heterosexual couples who wish to enter into a civil partnership rather than marriage. Why would they prefer this form of civil union? Here are some reasons:
- Marriage carries with it the historical and religious ‘baggage’ that the couple may feel uncomfortable with endorsing.
- Marriage is a rite that involves inviting family and friends and hosting a celebration afterwards, some may feel this is too expensive or an invasion of their privacy.
- Cohabiting couples are surprised to learn that they don’t actually have as many protections equivalent to marriage as they had assumed.
- This will allow transition from or into marriage if one of the couple undergoes a sex change operation.
- Legitimacy for children born at a time parents were not formally married.
- The recognition of overseas relationships.
Voiding a civil partnership is similar to divorcing, often served by the same form and assisted by the same divorce solicitors. There are some peculiarities to civil partnerships however, such as adultery by itself not a valid ground for dissolution, and of course that it may be voided by entering into marriage.
Expectedly, No Fault Divorce will make divorce easier and less costly
The current system of divorce is adversarial, which induce unnecessary stress on the family. Regulations state that one party must be at fault, or that living with them is intolerable. Couples must live apart for at least two years before they may separate fully. Also, one party may deny the divorce – but if they live apart for five years only then will consent no longer be required.
The consultation paper Reducing Family Conflict: Reform of the Legal Requirements for Divorce also stated how the current law aggravates family conflict.
- A. The question of fault forces couples to take up hostile positions
The need to cite evidence means digging up whatever allegations necessary to prove fault, which may aggravate and humiliate the respondent that the marriage itself becomes irreparable. The defense process increases acrimony, instead of a solution to family justice.
Once the petition has been filed – because of the need to prove fault and the provisions that require lengthy separation before a non-acrimonious dissolution is granted – this strictly works against agreement and reconciliation that could have saved the marriage.
- B. The law doesn’t actually address the reasons why the marriage breaks down
The divorce petition is concerned only with the fact that the marriage has broken down, not why. The reasons given in the petition may not even be true, but simply the easiest and fastest option for both concerned. Adultery, separation, and other acts that may be grounds for divorce could be simply symptomatic of a desire to dissolve the matrimony.
- C. The law is open to manipulation
The current law was remarked to be ‘procedurally unfair’, with only 2.28% of all petitions are actually contested in court. Due to the need to provide evidence, even if respondents may agree to the divorce, they may feel it is necessary to disagree vehemently with the allegations in particular used to support the petition.
In practice, many family lawyers and judges feel that the defense is costly, unhelpful, and ultimately futile and imposes unnecessary burden on the courts. Furthermore, outcomes usually reflect the relative bargaining capacity of both parties, and can be misused by vindictive spouses to make the divorce unnecessarily difficult. Divorce terms can be financially abusive even after escaping an emotionally abusive marriage.
Divorce petitions can be considered not a legal issue in itself but a means to construct a narrative that would secure a legal divorce. Those involved, even when they both agree, are highly incentivized to manufacture ‘facts’ to support their petition.
- D. The current law does not support the emotional needs of children
Research has shown that although children are inevitably affected when their parents separate, it is a far greater cause for social and behavioural problems to see the hostility between them. Where children have been encouraged to take sides, their relationship with both parents are instead impacted severely as from the conflict of loyalties and a child’s keen awareness of hypocrisy.
Furthermore, due to the artificial requirements of consensual separation as grounds for divorce, many are forced by financial reasons to live ‘separately’ as two households under one roof. This creates an artificial atmosphere that is confusion and harmful to children.
Proposed changes to reform the divorce process are concerned with three main outcomes.
- That the decision to divorce is a measured one, that gives spouses all opportunity to change course.
- That they are not put to legal requirements and hardship that do not serve their or the state’s interests.
- To avoid ongoing conflict and poor outcomes for children.
Unexpectedly, the UK actually sees the lowest level of divorce rates in 45 years
According to the Office of National Statistics, in 2017, there were 101,699 divorces down from 106,959 of 2016. This is the lowest since 1973. Divorces peaked in 1993 with 165,018; 1985 with 160, 300; and first in 1972 with 119, 025. However what is missing is that 1972 was also the record highest in marriages with 426, 241 marriages that year. There were much less divorce rates prior to the Divorce Reform Act of 1969, effective 1971, for obvious reasons.
“All this shows is the ongoing decline in couples choosing to get married, which means overall there are fewer couples to divorce,” spoke Frank Young, head of family policy at the Centre for Social Justice, explaining that the drop in divorce rates was no reason to celebrate. “Marriage is increasingly a middle-class perk with 87 per cent of higher earners getting married compared to only 24 per cent of lower earners.”
Since the 1970s, marriage rates have been decreasing while the divorce rates have more or less managed to remain stable. Waxing nostalgic about 33% of divorces happens when there are 426, 249 marriages to merely 119,025 divorces. In recent years over 45% of marriages end in divorce because since the 1990s, marriages dropped hard below the 300,000 per year rate while divorces hovered around the 160,000 per year rate. 2015 was the best of recent years at 42%, with 239, 020 marriages compared to 101,055 divorces.
It is hoped that by making marriage easier, and making it less painful to separate, this might encourage more marriages that promote stability in the family; wherein there are two partners facing the same challenges and giving support to their children.
“Women should not need marriage for financial security and social status and, increasingly, they don’t. Often, marriage makes women poorer, because it creates dependents,” Tanya Gold wrote for The Observer.