Channel 4 and E4 are currently screening the seventh season of Married at First Sight (MAFS), in which couples meet for the first time when walking down the aisle, their future having been determined by a group of relationship experts.
For many couples the show signaled the start of a durable relationship - but what happens if the honeymoon period last only a few days, weeks, or months, and the parties then decide to divorce?
The ceremonies conducted in the UK version of MAFS are not technically legally binding but in the real world, once a valid marriage has taken place either party can only apply to the courts for a divorce after 12 months.
The new “no fault” divorce legislation, which came into effect in April 2022, is designed to remove the “blame culture” that operated within the previous divorce proceedings although some argue that the new legislation diminishes the sanctity of marriage by making divorce simpler.
This view may be validated by recent Law Society statistics showing that in April 2022 12,978 new divorce applications had been made, compared to 6,764 in April 2021.
An alternative view on the increase in divorce applications is that increasingly, people want to take a less confrontational approach to separation. If a couples appearing on MAFS decides that the relationship experts have got it wrong and that they wish to separate, they can now do so either by means of a single or joint application.
In the case of the former, the only ground they need to rely upon is that the marriage has broken down and there is no need provide proof. A joint application is designed to make the separation process much more amicable and is the preferable option, particularly if the couple will continue to need to communicate in the best interests of any children they may have.
The new process does allow for a longer “cooling off” period. Once the application has been issued then you are unable to apply for the first stage of the divorce, known as the conditional order, until a period of 20 weeks has elapsed. After the conditional order has been granted then you can apply for the final order after six weeks and one day.
Therefore while it can be argued that the new process makes it easier to divorce and thereby threatens the sanctity of marriage, there is the counter view that, if a marriage has sadly broken down, then surely it is better to find a more amicable way to separate and concentrate on ensuring that a couple can continue to work together as parents.
The previous system relied on one party proving an allegation against the other, which is an adversarial start to separating. If a marriage is sadly no longer working for both partners, facilitating an easier and more amicable separation must be the better option.
Does that mean that shows such as Married at First Sight should be encouraged? That is perhaps a question for another day.
Clarke Willmott is a national law firm with offices in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, London, Manchester, Southampton and Taunton.
For more information visit www.clarkewillmott.com
Stacey Collins is a trainee legal executive in the family team at Clarke Willmott in Birmingham.