Divorce is just the beginning

Henry VIII and his Six Wives – Source: MyLondon

“Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived”. There were several ways for Henry VIII to extricate himself from his six marriages, some requiring an executioner and others needing approval from the Archbishop of Canterbury. For much of the UK it wasn’t so easy to escape unwanted relationships until the last 50 years.

Matrimonial Divorce

Hard as it is to believe, until the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act granted ordinary people the possibility, divorce was largely open only to men, and had to be granted by an Act of Parliament. Even then, women divorcing on the grounds of adultery not only had to prove their husbands had been unfaithful but also had to prove additional faults, such as cruelty, rape or incest.

Minor changes to divorce laws were made in the century after the Matrimonial Causes Act, but it wasn’t until 1969 that the Divorce Reform Act allowed couples to divorce after they had been separated for two years (or five years if only one of them wanted a divorce). Marriages could end if they had irretrievably broken down, and neither partner had to prove “fault”.

We still don’t have full “no fault” divorces. Only when the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill comes into force (likely to be in autumn 2021) will lawyers be better able to support couples to resolve matters ‘as constructively and amicably as possible, minimising the impact on any children they may have’ (Margaret Heathcote, chair of family law group Resolution).

Britain’s Brexit Divorce

Of course, the whole country has been in the midst of a particularly messy divorce since June 2016, and as we must surely now realise, it’s not easy when it’s never been done before. One effect of this complexity has been the daily “Deal or No Deal show”. The only relief is that this hasn’t included Noel Edmonds reviving his role as host of the Channel 4 TV show of the same name.

Why are we so obsessed? Stepping back, in so many ways there is little difference between the Deal discussed and the alternative of No Deal. They’re both awful. Yes, we might avoid tariffs on goods and the resultant higher prices, but many of the disadvantages of Brexit are coming whether we get an agreement or not.

Freedom of movement has gone whatever happens, in both directions.  The cultural loss to generations who haven’t experienced work, education, falling in love in another country will be immense.  The pressure on sectors with foreign workers as an integral part of their teams, most obviously the NHS, but also agriculture, academia etc. will be great. It’s hard to imagine Priti Patel’s points based immigration system working smoothly. Long queues of lorries because of more border checks and paperwork seem unavoidable. Due to Covid we are getting a taste of chaos in Dover and Kent being a lorry park. As we now realise, those queues will be a major disincentive for foreign lorry drivers to travel here, thus breaking supply chains.

Sharing of data, healthcare when overseas, mobile phone roaming charges, travel insurance, recognition of UK professional qualifications: these are just a few of the things that will change whether or not there is a Deal. The impact on the perception of the UK in the eyes of the rest of the World? Don’t even think about it.

Worse, than this, even with a Deal, there’s no closure. Think about what happens in other divorces. You might no longer be together, but the financial and emotional consequences can go on long after the divorce is finalised, unless you’re Henry VIII. You’re more intertwined when children are involved, and the UK has got around 70 million “children” in its population.

Here’s a small sample of the questions that will need to be answered:

  • What will happen to healthcare arrangements to replace EHIC?
  • Will UK nationals need International Driving Permits for short visits to EU countries?
  • Will we require Green Cards to prove we have valid car insurance?
  • What about people claiming their UK state pensions in an EU country?  Will their pensions increase every year?

What divorced couples have to do is negotiate every single interaction with each other. When will you take the children on holiday? What about Christmas? Normally I do Friday pickups but I can’t this week etc. Leaving the EU is much the same.

Brexit is Hotel California: you can check out but you can never truly leave.


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