Writing in The Law Gazette this week, Joshua Rozenberg considers Sir Paul Coleridge’s Marriage Foundation. Overall, he comes down strongly in favour of it, stating that he too has been married for some 38 years and has three grandchildren. Above all, Rozenberg feels that he and Sir Paul “see eye to eye on the importance of stable marriages as the building blocks of society.” But he goes one further – noting the implications of the chosen logo of the foundation, the keystone:
“A keystone stands at the apex of an arch and holds all the other stones in place. It’s wedge-shaped, so it can’t drop out. But if you lift it out of the arch, the smaller stones will inevitably fall to the ground.”
The legal commentator goes on to argue that “divorce lawyers are sometimes to blame for pulling out the keystone” and so, “with nothing to support the smaller stones, family judges then have to pick up the pieces.”
Let me now demonstrate why I disagree with Rozenberg and throw my own credentials into the hat. Like the author, I have been married for over 30 years; around the same amount of time that I have worked in the field of family law. During this time I have represented some ten thousand clients, so I feel that I am qualified to speak out on this matter – both from my own and the perspective of many others.
I recently headed the accreditation system for family lawyers on behalf of The Law Society, where I had the pleasure of meeting several thousand of my colleagues in the profession. I did not meet a single one who has ever set out to destroy a marriage. All were set to do their job within a system of law that requires that each do their best for their client, so that they can go on to build a new life with confidence.
Unlike the Marriage Foundation – which sadly hasn’t yet highlighted its position in relation to gay marriage, but has made a clear distinction between cohabiting and single parents, and married couples – I believe that any relationship can endure, regardless of the circumstances. There isn’t a divorce lawyer in the country who can part a loving couple or family who wish to stay together, whether they are married or cohabiting or they are gay or straight. Similarly, I believe that children can thrive with two married parents but can equally flourish with just one. At the same time, kids can be damaged by one or both of their parents – whether they are gay or straight.
I therefore believe that the meaning of the keystone is not marriage, but love. If there is love – genuine, mutually giving love – a relationship will last no matter its status or form. A family of all different shapes and sizes will stay together and will not fracture. If there is no love, quite simply, it is not for the long-haul. And the consequent fall out; the arguments, the sadness, the hatred and bitterness, are the falling stones from the loss of love. So it is not the divorce lawyers who dislodge and pull out the keystone; it is the disappearance of love from any relationship that causes it to crumble.
A recent case highlighted in the press demonstrates this. A husband, Peter Savva, has claimed that UK divorce laws do not do enough to encourage couples to stay together after his wife filed divorce proceedings against him. Claiming that his wife Niki is “mentally unstable”, Savva has launched a legal campaign to block her from ending their 34-year marriage as he feels she made her decision while “angry” and in the midst of a “breakdown”. Echoing my sentiment above, Lady Justice Black has said of the case: “He considers that his wife has been unduly influenced by her solicitors, her mother and others…It was in fact the husband who was struggling to come to terms with the facts about the marriage”.
It is therefore not the changing face of society that we need to consider; no new laws to force people to stay married or others to encourage them to marry. Similarly, it is not the conduct of family lawyers that should be called into question – as we are simply the convenient whipping boys in this scenario.
Instead, it is about forging relationships with the right people and maintaining these healthy partnerships with the power of love. It is about being honest and truthful, and recognising when the love starts to wane in a relationship and it starts to wither. At that point, it’s necessary to make a decision to do something about it or accept what has happened and stay together.
Once the love has gone, the relationship will crumble – like the arch when you take away the keystone.