The keystone: an archway to a loving relationship

Family Law|May 9th 2012

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.

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  1. DT says:

    As ever, written with great erudition Marilyn.


  2. JamesB says:

    I like the picture.

  3. JamesB says:

    Strikes me that I can’t side with one side or the other without agreeing with a lawyer. Oh well.

    On balance, I’m on the side of the Marriage foundation and putting the keystone back in the bridge. Also that Men should be the head of the household and against unilateral divorce without (real rather than fabricated) fault by renaming unreasonable behaviour, completely unreasonable behaviour, or something less nonsense like, like criminal convictions, or abolish it, or look at Wachel and Wachel again as that was a well dodgy ruling against what the politicians meant by the Divorce act. They wanted people to do the 2 years separation by consent. All this UB is UB (utter B). Alternatively, Scotland has a good system, 1 year with consent, 2 years without and better AR laws. On balance. I like their approach rather than the 1950s. But I agree what we have presently isn’t working as UB petitions make a bad situation much worse.

  4. JamesB says:

    Mend it don’t end it is a laudible goal. Not sure how you can disagree with it Marilyn really, especially as you have never been divorced.

    Speaking as someone who has, and know quite a few people I am not so sure divorce is such a great thing at all really (British understatement).

  5. JamesB says:

    The more I think about it the less sure I am though. I’ll stick by what I said about the Scottish system though. I like it. Plus they seem to have put better brains onto it then mine and I agree with them and changing our laws to theirs.

    As the man said though (Sir Paul) the law currently is a mess and needs sorting. I like the Scottish system, but I think I may have said that already ;-).

  6. DT says:

    James B

    Men as head of the household?!

    What if the household has no men or even two men?

  7. Marilyn Stowe says:

    James I do endorse marriage. I think it is the ‘gold standard’ for many couples because it does offer legal security for the entire family. 
    However, I also understand and am prepared to accept the right of parties to leave a marriage if they wish, because not every marriage will succeed for a number of reasons including abuse. Not every couple can marry even if they would like to be married (like DT,) and also where one half of the couple refuses because the law is far more advantageous (see the cohabitation post today). There are plenty of single parents also who do a great job with their children, some by choice, others by circumstance, so it doesn’t follow that marriage should be held out as the gold standard for all. 
    I have always been more concerned for the have nots and the underdogs, rather than the haves who to me do seem incredibly preachy, and that is why I choose to speak out. And it is the ‘have nots’and underdogs that I wish to help if I can and their case that I wish to advance.
    As for family lawyers, I’ve made my views pretty clear. Its grossly unfair to describe them in derogatory terms and it’s plainly wrong. It’s easier to blame lawyers if you are looking to lay blame,until you have experience of working closely with them and their clients.
    Although ‘love’ may appear at first sight, a soppy reference, in fact it’s the attachment of the couple to each other that keeps them together and lack of it that tears them apart.

  8. JamesB says:

    In this debate I believe it is the law that needs to change, not the family lawyers, they are just the messengers.

    I believe the church could and should provide more leadership by making a stand against female clergy and pro marriage, they should have created this and marriage clubs.

    By providing a safety net for those who divorce you are creating more divorces. That is the problem here. It’s the old welfare state rewarding bad behaviour debate and I believe the country is turning away from that.

    We can all provide non representative examples of marriages which should have ended or stayed together, it is the average relationship that is being discussed by them and I believe they are right to say that more should mend it rather than end it. Also rewarding the person who brings the least to the marriage with the most from it is a bad signal, we should look at AR and move to the Scottish system, although I think I’m going round again and may have mentioned that. On balance I think it is a worthy goal so where do I sign up. Also being anti gay marriage is irrelevant to the issue (I am pro gay marriage and still agree with them). And I am not one of the haves and am divorced and will not remarry for the rubbish law. Things need to change. I worry for my 2 daughters and 1 son if they stay the same, there needs to be more of a norm and responsibility and trust.

    It’s as Opra Winfrey says the ultimate question again, which is, would you be prepared to either take a child from a mother who couldn’t afford to look after it, or step over it in the gutter. I would, I think your alternative is too bad and not working. As I say religion and morals matter.

  9. JamesB says:

    p.s. The radio is full of adverts from lawyers advertising divorce, which doesn’t help also, should be banned, so they do have a point there afterall in shooting that messenger.

  10. JamesB says:

    And I’d never see my kids in the gutter – I’d always look after them 1st, I do stick by everything I have said here. It’s no-one elses business unless there is bad conduct is my point, especially not for over 50% of the assets.

  11. JamesB says:

    with 2 heads, all they do is argue. It’s like having 2 cocks in a farm, you can’t do it, or 2 prime ministers, makes no sense, much like family law.

  12. DT says:

    I quite agree Marilyn, marriage is of course the Gold standard. It promotes security (of many kinds), however, of course people need to be able to leave and there are often compelling and valid reasons as to why this has to be. 

    Rozenberg’s  comments are not only ridiculous, but also disappointing and read like they’re from somebody who just fancies jumping on a band-wagon without first thinking it through.

    People seek the advice of a divorce lawyer when they are at a very difficult time in their life and so that lawyer becomes inextricably linked with a negative time in their life; however, it’s not the job of the lawyer to “glue” a couple back together. 

    Believe it or not, the divorce lawyer is part of the solution and not part of the problem – and I’m quite prepared to receive (and deal with) a whole raft of flack on this one!


  13. Marilyn Stowe says:

    I get an “Alice through the Looking Glass” sensation when I recognize the world I don’t work in rather than the one I do.
    Thanks again

  14. DT says:

    I’m not surprised!

  15. JamesB says:

    I think we all view the world with our own different glasses on and prejudices and different experiences. The biggest thing I think I’ve learned from thinking a lot on this thread is that perhaps I should be writing Mills and Boon novels, as I can write quite emotionally. I will say though, if nothing else, on balance I don’t want any of my children to go though anything like the divorce me and my ex have, I want to try and save them from that. My second conclusion from this thread maybe.

  16. JamesB says:

    To elaborate, it was horrific and bankrupted us both, both financially and emotionally, especially me. Also those around and close to us were negatively impacted.

  17. JamesB says:

    If nothing else, improve the process to the same as Scotland, exactly.

  18. DT says:

    James B

    I know that you sometimes get cross and upset with lawyers, the law and all of the injustices in this world; however, I think that you actually find this blog cathartic which is great.


  19. JamesB says:

    Cheers m8. Like I say shooting the messenger is tempting often. The main culprit in my case was the ex Father in Law. Still I think the process didn’t help.

  20. JamesB says:

    the divorce, legal, process that is, and it costed a fortune, for poor quality offering, is a rich man’s game.

  21. JamesB says:

    Paul McCartney and the lawyers and Judges mentioned earlier in this thread spring to mind.

  22. DT says:


    James, if you think of “the process” as a giant, dynamic juggernaut, which has always been moving in a certain direction, in a certain way, for a long time,  you can then imagine how difficult it is to change course, particularly with any speed or absolute certainty. 

    It is perfectly possible to do so, but it takes time, patience and quite possibly some painful learnings along the way. But if we share ideas and suggestions for improvement and work with one another, we can hopefully make what can often be a difficult journey a little smoother.

    This is of course a huge over simplification of something quite complex. However, the law is evolving and, quite often, we see changes for the better both in family law and other areas of the law too.

    I doubt it’ll ever be perfect and satisfy all of the the people all of the time, but I think we have a responsibility to keep positively pushing it in the right direction, pushing for change, demanding that the law keeps up with our rapidly changing world, families, lives and circumstances.

    After all, if we made it, we can change it too.

    Keep looking forward.


  23. JamesB says:

    Here here, I agree with all of that. I do agree with the person who said this up though that he was tired of waiting for the Government to do something.
    Change in this field is overdue. Especially to the Unreasonable Behaviour ‘fact’ which is being massively misused against what the politicians want. Yes, I think the Scottish law in this area is much better than the English and Welsh law in this field which is appauling and is alienating the middle, non rich people – like me – who will continue to vote with their feet and not be married and subject to it.
    Another example of Politicians ducking the issue. Like the Rochdale scandal. For me I can’t remember the last tangible thing I heard a politician say which meant anything to me.

  24. JamesB says:

    I do agree with the person who set this up though that he was tired of waiting for the Government to do something.
    Me too.

  25. E.C. says:

    You know, every time I read about someone trying to force his or her spouse to stay (physically, or by engaging the force of the state), it sets off the “abuse” alarm in my head. This may not be fair to Mr. Savva in particular — but his reaction to his wife’s departure is certainly disrespectful and self-centred. He ignores what his wife has to say, or he rejects it as crazy and tries to overrule it. There’s no reason to think this only started the day she left him. It is probably a big part of why she left.

  26. JamesB says:

    I understand your point, but, to give Mr Savva the benefit of the doubt, he was and probably is in a fair state of shock. It probably came out of the blue for him and he is faced with a fabricated petition which he sees as disrespectful (it probably is) and has a week to decide on if to defend it or not. Hardly condusive to good relations.

    See my earlier point about the law needing to change to 1 year with consent 2 years without. I don’t subdugate (if that’s a word) women, but all this antagonism does is increase anger and acrimony and lawyers bills and think we need to change the law to be less antagonistice. Although I do emphasize that banning divorce where there is no fault is not the way to go.

  27. JamesB says:

    p.s. My ex wife’s petition was completely fictitious and went through as fact that it was unreasonable to expect her to live with me as a reasonable person should not ask that of her or something and as such I found that law disgusting. I didn’t defend it as we needed to part, but it left a very bad taste indeed. You kind of have to have been on the receiving end of one of these (dodgy UB petitions) before I can regard your opinion on the matter as not just a little too glib.

  28. JamesB says:

    Plus it makes remarriage and divorces and marriages subsequently less likely, and therefore is in lawyers interests to change the law. As it stands, me and my children will not be subject to this dodgy law as I, like Mr Savva do find it too bad.

  29. JamesB says:

    p.s. Family law seems to be, if in doubt, blame the man, if he complains, attack him more. Ok, you may have a point, but don’t let that cloud that so does he and the law needs to change.

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