‘Til divorce do us part
Mary Stenson weighs up rising divorce rates and whether they might actually spell progress.
From 1969 to 2019, the number of divorces per year in the UK more than doubled according to the Office for National Statistics. Consequently, we often hear complaints from older generations about how people ‘don’t value relationships these days’. The welfare of the 3.6 million children from ‘broken homes’ is a common concern in these discussions. It’s easy to see divorced parents as selfish but, coming from someone whose family’s track record with marriages is about as good as that of the Royal Family, I’m here to tell you that divorce can be a force for positive change.
Divorce as we know it is still a relatively new concept; it was only under the 1969 Divorce Reform Act that couples did not have to prove a fault, such as adultery, to obtain a divorce. They just had to have been living separately for a set period of time. As it stands today, couples can apply for divorce after one year of marriage, causing many to wonder why there is such demand to break off marriages so readily. One explanation is that these reforms are a side effect of the expansion of women’s rights. Family values have transformed completely – women are no longer trapped in unhappy or unsafe marriages through children or financial dependence, along with widespread access to contraceptives and work opportunities. It would simply be wrong to suggest that women having the necessary means to escape a miserable marriage is a regression of standards.
Not only does [divorce] provide relief to unstable families, but it also gives people the opportunity to lead safe and happy lives
A frequently overlooked reason for divorce is the impact of the rights of same-sex couples. When society was less accepting of homosexuality, many would enter into heterosexual marriages in order to remain firmly closeted and free from discrimination. A well-known example of this is Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing who was engaged to a woman for a short time. The legalisation of homosexuality in 1967 and of same-sex marriage in 2014, as well as increasingly accepting attitudes towards divorce, have finally allowed people (most notably TV personality Philip Schofield), to leave marriages that prevent them from being themselves.
Those who suffer some of the worst consequences of divorce are children, facing discomforts such as living between two homes, animosity between parents and the potential awkwardness of having new family members. The dilemma many couples face is whether to prioritise their marriage or their children, with some parents opting to stay together to preserve stability for their children. But is it truly stable if evenings are tainted by constant bickering? Whilst adolescents can struggle with their parents living separate lives and having a new, blended family, it is so much healthier than living in a household where tensions perpetually reach boiling point.
It would simply be wrong to suggest that women having the necessary means to escape a miserable marriage is a regression of standards
Too often it is the case that custody battles cause a divorce to become acrimonious. In 90 per cent of cases, mothers have custody over their children. This could be put down to stereotypes of maternal instincts, but what impact is this having on children’s relationships with their fathers? In toxic divorces, parents will paint the other parent in a bad light and encourage the children to pick sides. This is when a divorce becomes selfish; a child’s relationship with a parent has nothing to do with their parents’ relationship. They need both parents to be mature about the separation so that they have good role models for their own future relationships. Children without an active father figure, for example, are more likely to have their own marriages end in divorce which further drives home the need for divorce to be maturely handled to have the best outcome.
Divorce is, of course, a painful process that can sometimes be prevented by not rushing into a marriage but, in many cases, it is a necessary evil. In light of this, increased divorce rates actually represent society moving in the right direction. Not only does it provide relief to unstable families, but it also gives people the opportunity to lead safe and happy lives.