7th April 2022 • My Family Our Needs
On 6th April, the ‘no-fault divorce’ came into effect in the UK. MFON columnist Carly Jones MBE, shares how divorce affected her and why she welcomes this new development.
Unlike previous divorce proceedings, where to petition for divorce
, you had to accuse your spouse of unreasonable behaviour, the no-fault divorce aims to reduce conflict for both parties and, most importantly, for their children at this already painful time.
The news had me reflecting on my own divorce back in 2009 and how this new process of starting over may benefit parents of disabled children and disabled adults themselves.
I married as a teen. A few children later and at the age of 26, I drove alone to the local family solicitor to ask for divorce support. I was filled with anxiety and sadness.
After an hour or so of talking, I was given a form to fill out. They asked me to take it home and write down seven unreasonable behaviours my husband had displayed and then bring the form back to get proceedings started.
Being Autistic, struggling to drive to new places
, and having had a sleepless night due to psyching myself up to walk through the solicitor’s door, I knew that, if I took that form home, I’d probably be unable to return it. So, I sat in reception and spilled my guts via the pen in my hand. By the time I looked up again, I had written not seven, but 15, reasons.
‘That should be easy enough,’ said my empathetic, yet hard as nails, female solicitor as she read my form.
She was right; it was easy enough legally. But emotionally? Not easy at all.
Despite the 15 reasons I had written down, I didn’t want to play the blame game – not because the reasons weren’t strong (they were), but because I wanted to walk away with some dignity. I didn’t want to share some of the hardest things with my solicitor, the judge
, and, most importantly, my children, who could easily stumble across the legal papers later in life.
Marriages end for all sorts of reasons. Some are glaringly horrific; some are a case of ‘too much too young’; some are desperately sad; and some end because, somewhere along the journey, duty overtook dating and parenting overtook passion. Caring for someone else’s physical or mental needs can erode mental and physical desires; some can get that back, and some can’t.
For disabled adults and parents of disabled children, there’s more to consider. How do you write: ‘Our physical relationship broke down after years of personal care’? ‘The sleepless nights and taking it in turns to watch over our disabled son left our marriage non-existent’? ‘My spouse didn’t want to have children with me because I am disabled. I want to meet someone who doesn’t see my disability in that way and have a family before it’s too late’? (Thankfully, the world has moved on since and my confidence in myself has grown). How do you write these things without scarring the hearts of those you love the most; without making your children feel like a burden; without pouring salt in the open wound of your spouse?
Just because we are disabled, or parents of disabled children, it doesn’t mean we have to be unhappy in a past-its-shelf-life marriage. We don’t have to stay where we feel unappreciated and we don’t have to settle for less. The happier we are, the healthier we are. For those with disabled children with high care needs, a depressed and anxious parent is the last thing that can help them; sometimes, we need to be selfish to be a selfless parent.
I applaud the no-fault divorce for anyone who finds themselves having to start again, even more so for disabled adults and parents of disabled children.
After my divorce, when asked about remarrying one day, I used to say, ‘I still have enough faith for marriage but I no longer have faith in divorce.’