Lucy Mangan

“Without divorce, marriage is doomed”: Lucy Mangan on why the world needs divorce

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Lucy Mangan
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How miserable do you have to become before you get a divorce? It’s a difficult question, but don’t worry, ladies, because it may not be your concern much longer. Men will decide! Which is, after all, how it should be.

Almost uniquely in the annals of recent history, a male UK judge has refused to grant a woman a divorce because he thought the “unreasonable behaviour” she cited was not bad enough. She is now appealing the decision so she doesn’t have to stay in a marriage which makes her “desperately unhappy”.

To be fair, you can see, if you just look at the bald facts, where the judge was coming from. Among the 27 examples would-be divorcee Tini Owens gave were that her husband of 39 years, Hugh, constantly berated her for a year-long affair she’d had, refused to speak to her over a meal in a pub, rowed with her in an airport, and asked her to pick up cardboard from the garden. She said she felt “unloved, isolated and alone.”

“Huh,” you might fairly think. “Who hasn’t ignored their beloved over a meal in a pub? And isn’t rowing in an airport virtually international law? And while I’d need to know whose cardboard it was before I ruled definitively on that, I too would berate more or less constantly someone who’d had a year-long affair while married to me.” Though I would also point out that an affair is usually a symptom that a marriage has gone bad, rather than the cause.

But let’s take a step back and wonder something else instead – namely: why would anyone want to a) stay married to, or b) force someone to stay married to, someone she no longer loves? That’s surely the most unreasonable behaviour of all.

There’s a sadistic undertone to the whole thing – men in positions of authority keeping a woman legally tied to a man against her will. What do they think that opposing the divorce she wants will accomplish? According to Hugh, who completely disagrees that his marriage has broken down, he and Tini still have “a few years” to enjoy. Mate. No. This is heartbreaking denial at best, a near-abusive level of selfishness at worst.

Perhaps they feel they are doing their bit to shore up the crumbling institution of marriage?

If so, they might want to think again. It will do the opposite. The only reason I and most of my friends ever even entertained the idea of marriage was because divorce was possible if we needed or wanted one. That’s not to say any of us went into married life without intending it to last but we did, in a world full of uncertainties and unknowables, rely on the knowledge of that safety net.

Most of us have experienced, via our parents, friends or family, unhappy and sometimes violent marriages and know that however careful you are with your choice of partner, life has a way of jamming spanners in the works, throwing curveballs and sometimes simply drowning you in more sh*t than you can survive as a couple. Marriage is a gamble and if losing the bet means a lifetime of inescapable misery, perhaps we should be wary of even picking up the cards.

If Tini loses her gamble and her appeal is turned down she will have to spend five years living separately from, but remaining married to, a man she doesn’t love – with all the financial and emotional consequences that creates – before she can finally be granted a divorce without her husband’s consent. So much for happy ever after.