Marriage and divorce, UK style

Several Christians have been looking at what marriage means and in the US there is a view that marriage is too risky an undertaking for a man. Things are almost as bad in the England, where there is only one basic ground for divorce: the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. You can prove irretrievable breakdown by establishing one or more of the following ‘facts’ for divorce:

A Adultery
You must prove that, either through actual admission or through sufficient circumstantial evidence, your spouse has had sexual intercourse with another person of the opposite sex and that you find it intolerable to live with your spouse. If a sexual liaison short of sexual intercourse has taken place, it’s suggested that the unreasonable behaviour ground is used.
In England & Wales, you can name the other person involved as a co-respondent but this isn’t essential and can have serious consequences. Doing so can make the divorce proceedings more acrimonious, more complicated and more drawn out. It’s, therefore, usually best to avoid naming a co-respondent. If you wish to name the other person in your divorce proceedings, it’s best that you take legal advice before doing so.
Adultery can be used as the basis for a divorce petition, whether you and your spouse are still living together or there has been a separation, but, in either case, not more than six months must have elapsed since you became aware of the adultery before the divorce petition is sent to the court.

B Unreasonable Behaviour
You must show that your spouse has behaved in such a way that you cannot reasonably be expected to live with them. Unreasonable behaviour is now the most common fact on which to prove the ground for divorce in England and Wales. In an unreasonable behaviour divorce petition, the ‘petitioner’ (the person who starts the divorce proceedings) sets out a number of allegations against the ‘respondent’ (the person who receives the divorce petition).
These allegations might include references to excessive drinking or financial extravagance, for example; but it’s worth bearing in mind that the court doesn’t insist on really severe allegations of unreasonable behaviour in order to grant a divorce. Relatively mild allegations, such as devoting too much time to a career, having no common interests or pursuing a separate social life may well suffice. Using mild allegations may also make it easier to agree a divorce petition with your spouse in advance.
C Desertion
Where your spouse deserted you without your consent for a continuous period of at least two years; this fact is almost never used.
D 2-year separation (England & Wales)
By consent you and your spouse have been living apart for at least two years in England and Wales immediately preceding the presentation of the petition and you both agree to a divorce.
E 5-year separation (England & Wales)
You and your spouse have been living apart for at least five years in England and Wales immediately preceding the presentation of the petition. In this instance, your spouse doesn’t need to consent to the divorce.
For our American readers, the English way is that one or other party files for divorce and the divorce petition is usually granted. This leads to the issue of a court document called a “Decree Nisi” which basically says that unless for some reason you petition the court to have this set aside before the issue of the decree absolute (the certificate of divorce) some six months later, you will be divorced in six months.

Mumsnet, a cybernetwork of and for mothers tells women “The courts are not interested in apportioning blame (especially in the case of something as commonplace as infidelity), and they ignore fault in the separation of the assets. Generally, in England and Wales, the assumption is a 50/50 split of all assets, except where children are involved; in the latter case it will depend on who has primary residency.”

Usually, a court orders reasonable access, often every other weekend and depending on circumstances some evening time during the week for the non-resident parent.

You might think what has all this got to do with God and His plan for marriage. Let’s start in Ephesians 5, at verse 22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church– 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

The first point that needs making is that too often the church abdicates all responsibility in the marriages of its members, with little or no counselling and what there is being all “touchy-feely” with little basis in Scripture and concentrating mainly on what hymns the couple will have at the wedding ceremony. Indeed, in the Church of England, if one or other lives in the parish, or regularly attends the church and so is on the electoral roll of the church, the incumbent cannot refuse to marry a couple unless one or other has been married before and has a former spouse still living. So a vicar, knowing both of the people looking to marry could well be aware of all sorts of reasons why they should not marry, but if they themselves do not decide that they are going to call off the wedding, there is nothing the vicar can do to stop it. He cannot even insist on pre-marital counselling. He is in an invidious position, because, in my view, the Church of England decided to be a state church rather than ensure its allegiance was only to God. If anyone has had any serious church counselling before marriage, do let me know, and please be specific if it included any teaching about headship in marriage.

I know that almost 30 years have passed since my wife and I married, and we were married in her home church about 100 miles away, in the Church of England, by a vicar who knew personally the vicar in the church we were attending. Neither offered any counselling although they both knew that we are to be married. Our one visit with the vicar who married us revolved around the hymns for the wedding service. I do hope that things have changed but I doubt it.

The second point I would like to bring out from here is that Scripture does not put any conditions on the wife submitting to her husband. He does not have to be perfect. He does not have to make her feel loved at all times. He does not have to fill her every fibre with an almost electric zing that gets her all gooey inside. All he has to do is to be her husband. The phenomenon of women moving on because they have become unhappy with their husbands is taking root here too.

Thirdly, despite all the trashy disparaging remarks written about Holly Petraeus, the wife does not have to do anything to deserve his love other than to marry him. It is her right to be loved. She may sometimes not feel loved but she has a right to be loved. Ask any child who has just been disciplined by its parents what it feels and I’ll lay odds it does not feel loved, but if the parents did not love the child then they would not have bothered to apply discipline.

Except in cases of intimate partner violence or seriously unreasonable behaviour, can a Christian spouse leave the other? Even in these cases, I would argue that it is reasonable to separate but there is an obligation on the church fellowship to work with both parties to try to achieve reconciliation and a change to the behaviour of the offending spouse. However, such behaviour is also contrary to what Paul wrote to the Ephesians, Chapter 5 verse 33 “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” How can one claim to love or respect another and then behave unreasonably towards that person. So it is clearly a case of church discipline, if any churches have the mettle for such a thing in these easy-going days.

I will be coming back to this topic in the next few days.

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About UK Fred

A Christian who cares that the church in Britain conforms to societal demands, rather than transforms society. I am particularly concerned with the lack of support for marriage and the acceptance of divorce in the church. I also care that the body politic in Britain seems to be corrupt and in need of a good shake-up.
This entry was posted in Christian, Church of England, Marriage and Society, Obedience, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Marriage and divorce, UK style

  1. Jon Gleason says:

    Hi, Fred.

    I always require multiple sessions of premarital counseling.

    In the case of spousal violence, a crime has been committed, and should be reported to the authorities, if we are going to respect the government as we ought to. God did not intend marriage to provide protection for violence, and godly submission is not intended to be an “out” for criminal behaviour.

    Yes, refusal to abide by the commands God requires is grounds for discipline. I draw a distinction between refusal and failure. Every husband fails to love as God commands. Every wife fails to submit as God commanded. Not every failure is grounds for discipline. As with any sin, church discipline is necessary for the rebellious who will not repent, not for those who have sinned but repent.

  2. ukfred says:

    I am pleased to hear that you do require multiple sessions of pre-marital counseling. Do you also require both parties to a marriage to run through an inventory, such as Prepare/Enrich of Foccus before the marriage, like Mike McManus of Marriage Savers? He believes that using such techniques, while increasing the number of couples who choose not to marry, usually breaking up because they can see that there are areas that will become areas of conflict because of a mismatch between them, means that the couples who do marry after going through this process are more likely to remain together than to split up. Indeed, he expects over 10% of those who present for pre-marital counseling to decide not to go ahead with the marriage. He also requires cohabiting couples to live apart through the counseling process. In addition, he uses lay members of the church as counselors and marriage mentors.

    To be fair, you do not have the law stacked up against you in that you are pastor to a church that is not part of the established church. I cannot remember what the position is in the Church of Scotland. In the Church of England the incumbents hands are pretty much tied, in that even if he or she refuses to marry the couple, they must obtain the services of a substitute who is licensed to solemnise marriages in the diocese. This is partly why I would prefer to see the churches being totally free of any tie in to the state.

    I fully agree with your comment on spousal violence, although I think it is important to be aware that it is pretty much gender-symmetrical. The church where I worship has a case of a man who was subject to such violence by his ex-wife.

    • Jon Gleason says:

      Hi, Fred. I’ve not used the program you mention. I do all the counseling myself, but I’ve not married a lot of couples, and am unlikely to.

      This is one of the many reasons why a state church is a bad idea. The biggest reason, of course, is that the Scriptures do not endorse such an arrangement.

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