By Peter Makossah
The silence is deafening. A pair of inquisitive hazel eyes stares down at him as he fiddles idly with a strand of his dreadlocked hair dangling across his forehead. He takes a deep breath and sniffs loudly: “Oh, my God!” He curses himself as he saunters down the Upper Parliament Street past a shabby red brick building with a sooty roof.
James Mashingaidze, 46, of Bulwell in Nottingham but originally from Mutare in Zimbabwe, is noticeably lost, in his mind. And on his face. His spirits are visibly low, and despite the early morning sunlight, Nottingham City Centre looks tired and unwashed.
The pale sun seems only to accentuate the yellowing net curtains, cobwebby windows, and faded paintwork – a quick reminder that the legendary ‘Robinhood City’ has existed for centuries. He looks above, but the shops’ rooftops have nothing else to offer; the stucco and brickwork were scarred and scattered.
His wounds, suffered in the marriage blitz, still startlingly clean and fresh in his heart. “Why can’t I be free from this bondage?” he yells at himself.
Mr Mashingaidze, who is a psychologist, is aware that whatever he decides, it would lead inevitably to further decisions and actions – and most importantly some legal complications – each creating a ripple effect through his life.
“Love hurts. And when it does, the best way is to move on than being a prisoner,” he considers. “Living with someone you love is sweet but being in a loveless marriage is hell.”
Mr Mashingaidze complains that he is trapped in loveless marriage as the current archaic divorce law compels him to stay on with his wife because she has no fault in the eyes of the law.
Under the previous family law, Mr Mashingaidze would have to wait for five years before divorcing his wife of ten years and mother of his three children aged eight, six and three but under the new law it will take just a short time.
In many ways, his decision to leave his wife for no reason has created more of a tidal wave than a ripple. Mr Mashingaidze says he takes decision-making seriously. But on this occasion, no matter how carefully he has been trying to mull over the issue in hand, he still cannot envisage the outcome on this bright July morning inside the marshalling Nottingham County Court building.
“I expected the court to understand that the only reason I married my wife was that, at that time, I loved her. Now, the reason I want to divorce her is that I no longer love her. It is that simple”, he claims.
“If love was the reason I married her, then lack of it should be a reason enough to ‘unmarry’ her,” says Mr Mashingaidze in a matter of fact-tone.
The genteel air blowing inside the Family Court soothed him a little bit; however, the grim bustle and fuss of the 50-year-old archaic divorce law stilled his little hope within moments of walking through the stone-arched entrance into the modest but airy and authoritative courtroom.
The Family Court district judge has just dismissed Mashingaidze’s divorce petition because he has failed to satisfy the court with set reasonable grounds to warrant a dissolution of the marriage.
The weather is hot. The musty, wood-scented courtroom air is waved into a breeze by heart-shaped fans. “There are a lot of us, but it doesn’t look that way. We’re dwarfed by the cathedral-like ceilings, the sombre, polished wood, and the peaked stained-glass windows whose brilliant colours cast rainbows over our breathing bodies”, he lamented.
Mr Mashingaidze’s wife (name withheld) 43, who lives in Strelley, Nottingham is challenging the divorce arguing her husband is incapable of interpreting her needs accurately.
“My husband’s neglect of me through unexplained prolonged absence from home continues to produce indescribable solitude and a sense torture. I have done nothing wrong to be divorced”, she said.
Mrs Mashingaidze said that she could not believe the nauseating words coming out of her husband’s mouth. She exclaims, “James told me in my face he did not want to be with me anymore. I asked him; ‘what has happened to our ‘until death do us part’ vows.’ He didn’t reply.”
The story of James and Pamela Mashingaidze is common in Britain as under the current law a spouse must allege adultery or unreasonable behaviour by the other for divorce to go ahead.
However, divorce laws in England and Wales are set to change to allow couples to split with speed. The new divorce law, which came into effect in May this year will shake-up – the biggest overhaul in 50 years – will sweep away the legal principal that one should usually be at fault for a divorce to take place.
The three grounds, for an at–fault divorce currently, are adultery, unreasonable behaviour, and desertion.
The reforms to change family laws in the UK follow years of campaigning by legislators, lawyers, and judges.
Under new legislation, brought forward by the “Conservative” Government in 2020, a person will be able to simply walk away from their marriage, no reason given, and voices are now calling for this change to be rolled out across the whole of the British Isles.
From start to finish, divorces under the new system can be completed in six months — even less if the court wishes. The chances of a couple resolving their difficulties in this accelerated time frame are slim.
Vitalis Ngadi, a family lawyer based in Derby says: “The idea for a no-fault divorce is to remove culpability. The fault divorces increase conflict and reduce chances of reconciliation.”
“However, this is only good for the British marriages and not for the African marriages in the UK as African marriages are founded on the strong roots of family values and religion.”
Ngadi says in an African setup, when one marries, they marry the whole family, the whole church or mosque and the whole community and, therefore, you cannot just wake up one morning and decide that you don’t want your wife or husband anymore.
“If you want to leave your wife or husband, you will not only rely on the courts to dissolve your marriage, but you will also have to consult the family and the church or mosque to help you fix or mend the broken marriage,” explains Ngadi.
He adds, “the new no-fault divorce law will be difficult for UK-based African families as this will cause many marriages to break and family values will evaporate into oblivion.”
Nottingham North Labour MP Alex Norris says, “I’ve listened to both arguments and firmly think a no-fault divorce is much safer and easier.”
Mr Norris believes that children are damaged by hostility and conflict between parents. He reveals that he will vote for the no-fault divorce bill into law once tabled in parliament. “For a long time, many people have been calling for reform on divorce law. I firmly believe that now is the right time to end this unnecessary blame-game for good,” says Mr Norris.
Regardless, a large body of evidence says that children are most damaged by the break-up of their home. A recent report by Social Justice Think-tank found that people whose parents split while young are twice likely to be unsuccessful in life compared to children from families that stayed together.
In October 2017, the report of a Nuffield Foundation funded research project, led by Professor Liz Trinder of Exeter University, recommended entirely removing fault from divorce law and replacing it with a notification system.
Associate director of the Centre for Rights and Justice, a senior solicitor, a family law expert, and an associate professor of law at Nottingham Law School and Church of England ordained priest, Reverend Dr. Helen Hall says divorce rate is likely to increase if it is perceived to be easy.
“Marriages need protection from law and the society. Children must be at the heart of the matter, no matter the circumstances,” remarks Dr. Hall.
Pastor Emmanuel Mbetewa, a senior minister at Citadel International Church in Nottingham City Centre says marriage is commissioned by God and the vows people make during wedding ceremonies, they make them with God and not the courts.
“The institution of marriage was put in place by God. Divorce is nasty and it should be the last option after everything has been exhausted.”
Sheikh Ibrahim Khadri Bin-Omar, a Muslim cleric based in Mapperley says: “Divorce should not be made easier as this will make people walk away from their families and in the end, it will be the children who will suffer the consequences,” explains Sheikh Ibrahim Khadri Bin-Omar.
Chinelo Oyedepo, a Nigerian psychologist based in Sutton-in-Ashfield says, “sometimes divorce is necessary when the marriage has broken down because staying in a loveless marriage is toxic especially to the children. When love ends, people must move on.”
Oyedepo states that the divorce itself does not affect children in a negative way. “The effects result more often from the feeling of uncertainty of what is going to happen after the divorce, from the level of conflict between the parents and from how the parenting after the divorce is done.”
For Mrs. Mashingaidze, those who do not value the institution of marriage, they should stay away from marriage because divorce is evil and against the cardinal law of God, love one another.
“The laws should be upholding and championing marriage and discouraging divorce but instead, they trample on marriage and ease the tracks to separation. I fear the consequences of this for our already broken society could be grave indeed,” bemoans Mrs. Mashingaidze.