Would you Marry at First Sight?
Leading family lawyers in the country subscribe to the idea that the UK needs a ‘no fault divorce’ option. We have been advocating this since the 1990s, when we pressed for Part II of the Family Law Act 1996 to be enacted. The Government of the time decided that the provisions were “unworkable” and they have now been repealed. It was said that to interfere with the right of every married person to lay blame on the other would be “to question the sanctity of marriage”. Many do not agree with that stance in today’s society.
We say that a simple change to the law would enable married couples to divorce without blame even though they will not have been separated for two years, as the law currently stands for couples wanting a no fault divorce. It would remove one unnecessary hurdle from a difficult situation already often rife with blame, anger and guilt. There are countless examples of one member of a divorcing couple being influenced through anger, guilt or emotional blackmail to have a diminished role in the lives of their children, or accept less from the marital finances because of the way they are made to feel by the divorce process at that time.
Resolution, The Times, Senior Judiciary and the Nuffield Foundation continue to lobby for new legislation, but the Government will only consider change as part of a general review of the family justice system – yet another example of government and society remaining out of step indefinitely into the future.
For couples still having to navigate this legally enforced requirement to detail blame for the breakdown of their marriage, it seems a little reckless that popular culture is promoting the programme Married At First Sight. It is now in its third series in the UK on Channel 4, where ‘experts’ pair armies of potential participants and match make them statistically. All the betrothed have to do is agree to marry their match on the prescribed day – without ever having met them before.
A review of the first series in a national broadsheet breathlessly opined that:
‘Cynical viewers like myself may have hoped for car-crash match-fails to expose the “experts” but inevitably we begin to get to know the final six, and root for them’.
The article concludes that:
‘Marriage is still a sacred social totem and this felt taboo [but] Turning the biggest decision of a life into a ratings grabber barely feels controversial, so accustomed are we to the extremities and lunacies of the screen…I was bereft when it ended…Jane Austen would have been hooked’.
For the programme to be recommissioned twice, it must be extremely popular. It exposes our national psyche as being contradictory – our politicians will not countenance keeping blame out of the divorce process, but the media can ‘play’ with marriage in a show that is supposedly socially experimental. Does this sit well with the real life experiences of marriage, and subsequent divorce that many people face?
We specialist family lawyers will continue to lobby for a system that better meets the needs of our clients in contrast to the disconnect between the government and media.