Why can’t UK married couples legally split on an amicable basis, asks a perfectly happily divorced Suzy Prince.
Divorce is one of those things – much like bereavement – that you can’t fully describe until it’s happened to you. Despite the statistics, nobody enters into a marriage thinking that it’s going to end in divorce, and nobody can prepare you for the extremities of soul searching, insecurity and probably self-doubt that will almost invariably follow.
My now ex-husband (and can somebody please come up with a new name for that when you’re still close friends and co-parents? It’s so awkward in social situations) and I had a mostly great relationship for almost a decade. We married about six years in, with our children arriving a couple of years after that. We were inseparable for a long time: working together, as well as running around town together in the early years and creating a domestic bubble later on.
But things change and we changed. We both tried really, really hard to make it work but one day last year I sat down, looked him in the eye and said, “I don’t want this any more.” He nodded, looked right back and said, “Yes. I don’t want what we’ve become.”
Despite the odd wobble on both sides, we’ve never wavered from the inevitable. We spent a year still cohabiting – in separate bedrooms – for financial reasons (as in, we’ve been too skint to do it any other way) although this is about to change, thankfully. It’s been a year of some serious conscious uncoupling; Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin have got nothing on us. We’ve been generally amicable and over-polite most of the time, with only the odd blazing row.
A few months ago I felt the need to formalise things and sort out our divorce; it felt all wrong still being officially married to somebody that I’m no longer actually physically together with or in love with.
A divorced friend of mine told me that if you have no particular quibbles (zero assets have meant a lot less to sort out) and you’re both in agreement then you can go to the Government website and they’ll tell you what you need to know, with no solicitor necessary. Sounded good to me: we’d file for irreconcilable differences and be done and dusted.
But guess what? It turns out that in UK law there is no ‘no-fault’ irreconcilable differences option yet, even though a quick straw poll of friends and family demonstrated that most people seem to think there is. If you want a no-fault divorce then you have to be prepared to wait until you’ve lived apart for two years. This rises to FIVE YEARS if one party doesn’t agree.
Think this doesn’t sound like too long? Trust me, it’s an eternity when you’re trying to move on. If your love has shapeshifted to a point where you no longer love each other as husband and wife and need to remove yourselves from each other’s orbit as cleanly as possible, it’s soul-sucking to have to wait for two or five years.
“Without either of us being prepared to sit it out for two years, my husband’s and my only option was for one of us to file for ‘unreasonable behaviour’, which didn’t sit comfortably with us.”
The desertion option seems fair enough if you have in fact been deserted but here are the rules relating to adultery (taken directly from the website). You can file for divorce because of adultery if “Your husband or wife had sex with someone else of the opposite sex, and you can no longer bear to live with them.” So far so good. Then there’s this little nugget of joy to contend with: “It doesn’t count as adultery if they had sex with someone of the same sex. This includes if you’re in a same-sex marriage.”
This took me a long time to get my head around, and I kept thinking that I must be missing something. In our case there was no adultery, but if there had been then I think it’s safe to say that either of us would have been equally as destroyed if our other half had shagged somebody of the same sex. And the ramifications of this ‘not counting’ for couples who are in a same-sex marriage are enormous.
In the end, without either of us being prepared to sit it out for two years, our only option was for one of us to file for ‘unreasonable behaviour’, which didn’t sit comfortably with us.
My husband did behave unreasonably at times as the relationship broke down, but so did I. Sure, he could have also filed against me, but that would have meant an appearance in court, for the judge to decide who behaved the most unreasonably, and we both felt that this was a bridge too far.
You have to cite examples of the other person’s bad behaviour, so it dredged up a lot of unpleasant memories and issues at a time when we were trying our utmost to keep things on an even keel.
Why on earth can’t there be an irreconcilable differences option in this country? Maybe with a tick-box that says, “We did really love each other, and we were great for years and we would love everyone who knows us both to continue to acknowledge that fact. But now we’ve lost our way and ‘we’ don’t work. We need to part. But hey, could we have some Brownie points for actually being honest about this and facing up to it?”
If we could have just had the dignity of a no-fault divorce I think it would have helped a lot to soothe this painful experience.
I’m still a firm believer in love and I still hope that I’ll find it again one of these days. But – and I’m aware of how contradictory this sounds – I find it highly unlikely that I’ll ever marry again, until they sort out the divorce laws. Which quite frankly right now are a load of old bobbins.
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Suzy Prince is a writer and editor, specialising in the fields of absolutely everything. She's currently writing a children's book, having had what could be the greatest idea of all time for a leading character. She's also a multitasking mama, who deserves a bloody big medal.