One answer no doubt lies in what could be called 'the spirit of the age'. 1963 was, after all, the year in which (according to Philip Larkin) 'sexual intercourse began'. It was also the year of the so-called Profumo affair in which a Minister of the Crown admitted lying to Parliament about his relationship with a woman; and unprecedented press publicity was given to the surrounding events and rumours. (For example, another Minister was said to indulge in 'weird sexual practices' involving his appearing naked--save for a mask--at parties.) Lord Denning's exhaustive investigation into these matters (concluding that although there had indeed been orgies where guests indulged in 'sexual activities of a vile and revolting nature' and that it was true dinner had been served by a naked masked man yet there was not a 'shred of evidence' that the man in question was a Minister) did little to calm the fevered atmosphere. In the circumstances, it became increasingly difficult to believe that civilisation would be endangered by allowing the thousands of (often elderly and usually eminently respectable) couples living together in what came to be called 'stable illicit unions' to crush the 'empty legal shell' of an earlier marriage so that they could become in law what they had long been in fact (Castles and Flood, 1991).
The massive increase in divorce associated with ...
At a somewhat less lofty level, those concerned with the administration of the family justice system became preoccupied with avoiding its collapse under the apparently relentless pressure of dirvorce petitions. 1But even amongst those who firmly believed the ideal of marriage--in particular as a way of providing children the 'settled and harmonious life on which so much of their future happiness depends' --to be the traditional union 'for better for worse, for richer for poorer . . . till death us do part' there was concern about the lot of the hundred thousand or more people living apart from their legal spouses in stable unions to which the law denied recognition. The impossibility of legalising such relationships against the will of an 'innocent' legal spouse denied many men and women (and in particular the children they bore) adequate social and financial protection (Ceschini, 1995).
In 1951 in an attempt to meet this concern, Mrs Eirene White had introduced a Private Member's Bill into the House of Commons, avowedly intended 'to deal with marriages in which the spouses have lived separately for seven years, but in which no hitherto recognised ground for divorce exists or in which one partner, having grounds for action, declines to take it and keeps the other partner tied against his or her will, generally for life'. The Bill did this by invoking 'a new principle, in that it looks to the breakdown of the marriage as the ground for divorce (whilst not prejudicing the right of an injured party to seek divorce under the existing matrimonial offence provisions). This was to be achieved by adding seven years' separation to the existing grounds for divorce; but divroce was only to be granted on the