Comedy stars Dawn French and Lenny Henry have been granted a divorce on the grounds of his "unreasonable behaviour", various media outlets have reported this week.
Of course, all stories I have seen talk about the mythical “quickie” divorce as usual. I don’t think anyone wants to listen when we tell them that it simply doesn’t exist. Is there another way we can manage this message? Instead of fighting to get all people to use the right terminology, should we instead start using the tabloid phrasing ourselves? At least clients will then see that it is an option for all and still takes a set amount of time. The ill-advised wording simply means that both sides have agreed not to dispute the divorce, which keeps the time needed down to a minimum. The wheels of the law still turn at the same rate, celebrity or not.
Dawn and Lenny announced their separation in April after 25 years of marriage. They said it was amicable and have since, quite recently, been on holiday together with their adopted daughter.
However, because of the way our family law is set up, despite what appears to be a very grown-up relationship between the estranged lovers that should service as an example to many on how to behave, the reason given for the divorce was Lenny’s “unreasonable behaviour”. A reason has to be given in divorce papers. Blame has to be apportioned. So despite the couple seeming to manage the situation well between them and continue to be good parents to their daughter, to the outside observer, it is all Lenny’s fault.
Privately, couples will always apportion blame, but is it not time for the law to change so that it doesn’t have to be done publically? It can only cause acrimony. There are obviously no details of the “unreasonable behaviour”. I would suggest that most people might think back to allegations in the newspapers in 1999 when he is said to have spent the night in the hotel room of a blonde companion. Some people may even think it relates to the quality of the jokes he tells. Whatever the reason, it lays the fault of the marriage failure squarely at Lenny’s door, rightly or wrongly.
I believe, with a new coalition Government in power and review of the family justice system ongoing, now is the right time to look at introducing a “no fault” divorce. Only by having such an option in place can we take some of the sting out of the divorce process and help diffuse potentially volatile situations before they come to a head.