How Marriage Got Divorced from Reality.; as the Government's Divorce Reforms Go through, Here Is a Personal View from the Barrister Creator of Rumpole of the Bailey, Who Was Divorced from His First Wife in 1972 and Is Now Re-Married
Qc, John Mortimer, Sunday Mirror (London, England)
The mistake politicians and guardians of public morality make is to suppose that tougher divorce laws force couples who have fallen out of love, or in love with other people, to stay together.
Of course they don't. No law can be devised to stop wives bolting with the man next door, or husbands ambling off in pursuit of their secretaries.
Until recently no divorce was allowed in Eire. When it is introduced it won't find thousands of unhappy couples suddenly splitting up. It will just enable a lot of people, who broke up their marriages years ago, to remarry those with whom they were living contentedly in so-called sin.
Divorce doesn't end marriages, it allows couples who have decided they don't like each other to start new ones.
Divorce cases have also given endless opportunities to couples to exact revenge, wound and often bankrupt each other in bitter struggles over who has what. This provides a great deal of wealth for lawyers. So what sort of divorce law should we have?
Early in the last century you couldn't end a marriage without getting a bill passed through both Houses of Parliament. This didn't prevent the rich sleeping with each other's wives and the slum dwellers raising families without bothering to get married at all.
When I started as a divorce barrister you couldn't get a divorce unless you could prove cruelty or adultery or desertion. I had a client who wanted a divorce but found it terribly hard to persuade anyone to commit adultery with his wife. He was forced to put on a false beard and creep into his bungalow pretending to be his wife's lover. He was sent to prison for perverting the course of justice, which I thought was a bit harsh.
Then the law changed and you could get a divorce after two years' separation. The idea of the matri-monial offence was on the way out, and maintenance was decided without any reference to conduct. This seemed, to me, grossly unfair. …