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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

My husband and I want to split on good terms – thanks to no-fault divorces, we finally can | Anonymous

At the beginning of this year my husband and I made the decision to end our 15-year marriage. This was not a spur-of-the-moment thing – we had agonised over it for a long time. With two teenage sons, one of whom is on the autistic spectrum, we were determined to live together as a family and for years we muddled along, functioning almost as a business rather than a marriage.

We had both been married before, and part of our determination to persevere was the fear that we’d both be “failing” at marriage for a second time, even as our emotional disconnect became more intolerable and our unhappiness grew.

When I divorced my first husband, the father of a baby I had in my early 20s, the law required that we either placed the blame on one party or had been separated for two years. Our relationship met neither of these criteria, but my solicitor advised that we could cite “unreasonable behaviour” if I could list anything I found vaguely irritating about my husband. Among other things, I wrote that “he doesn’t let me watch the television channel I want” and “leaves the toilet seat up”. This felt like a very sad way to end a marriage. It forced blame and responsibility on to someone who I had cared about but had married too young, and for reasons that were not a recipe for success.

So when I discussed separation with my current husband, we agreed not to go down the divorce route until we had been separated for two years, as we didn’t want to have to place blame or trivialise what had been a long and initially happy marriage. We both felt that our values and integrity superseded any desire for a quick divorce. We felt we had no choice but to wait, even though it was becoming abundantly clear that the deterioration in the relationship was having a detrimental effect on our family and we both wanted to move on as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Then, after a visit to a mediator in February to help us sort out child and financial arrangements, we discovered that something huge was about to happen: the law in England and Wales was changing to allow “no-fault divorce”, removing the requirement to either place blame, or demonstrate a two-year separation. That law change came into effect today, and anecdotal evidence from law firms suggests we’re far from the only couple who will be jumping at the chance to divorce blame-free. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that divorces were down by a quarter over the last three months of 2021, perhaps because couples who were planning to divorce had decided to wait.

I can understand why – the sense of relief for both of us that we can proceed with our divorce, knowing in our hearts that we have tried everything over a long period of time to make our marriage work, is indescribable. We can tell our children honestly that our marriage has reached its natural conclusion, without them feeling that one of us is to blame or even (god forbid) that they are to blame. The prospect of this new, kinder form of divorce has made our mediation sessions more relaxed and given us both a sense of control.

My husband and I spent a long time ruminating over the decision to end our marriage, largely because we know we are both good people who haven’t had affairs or placed any huge strains on our relationship. The old laws encouraged us to feel that divorce had to be the result of someone doing something terrible, or of a truly disastrous partnership. This was far from the case for us, yet our marriage was becoming increasingly unhappy and was affecting both us and our children.

The new legal framework means we can divorce mutually and respectfully with our heads held high and not see our marriage as a disaster – which it most certainly wasn’t. It was an important chapter of our lives. I hope this change reflects a broader recognition that marriages can come to a natural end and still be seen as successful – even if not everlasting.

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