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Judge says celebrity marriages are bad role model

I very much enjoyed reading this weekend about the marriage of two of my favourite TV celebrities David Mitchell to Victoria Coren. I loved the photos and thought her dress was gorgeous. Equally well-known brother Giles Coren, who writes amusingly in The Times of his own marriage and newly arrived child with another on the way, gave her away.  David Mitchell tweeted his followers (of which I am one) about how blissfully happy he is. So I had a wry smile, when in the same newspaper yesterday I read a thunderous warning about the perils of emulating celebrity marriage, from a High Court judge.

Are celebrity marriages more prone to fail than the relationships of us more ordinary folk? Mr Justice Coleridge appears to believe so, and said that young people should not try to emulate the marriages of the rich and famous because they are “even less able to sustain long-term healthy relationships than the rest of us”.

Earlier this year Sir Paul Coleridge set up the Marriage Foundation, a group dedicated to the promotion of long term relationships within marriage. It has just published a report claiming that celebrity marriages are twice as likely to end in divorce as the rest of us – the divorce rate over a ten year period is 40 per cent compared to only 20 per cent for non-celebrities. The report was based on the outcomes of 572 high profile celebrity weddings which have taken place since 2000. One in ten of the marriages were over within two years.

The judge, who was a family law barrister for 30 years before becoming a high court judge 12 years ago, said in his introduction to the report:

“The worrying feature of these statistics is the picture they paint to those who regard the celebrity lifestyle as something to be admired and copied for its own sake. These are, after all, the role models upon which many, especially young people, fashion their lives. Aspiration for happiness built on celebrity lifestyle is, it seems, dangerously flawed.”

For heaven’s sake! This is such a negative  perspective! Marriage is an exciting commitment for all of us and it can work. The Beckhams, one of the most celebrated couples on the planet seem to be doing all right along with plenty of other celebrity couples who are still married despite living lives in a virtual goldfish bowl with all manner of temptation around them. Only today for instance, David Walliams and his wife Lara Stone announced they are happily expecting a child.

By all means, as I have done on many occasions in the past, criticise high profile couples who live together without ever actually tying the knot. Surely it is they who are perpetuating the myth about common law marriage and misleading people into thinking cohabitation is a glamorous, settled and viable alternative to traditional marriage.

The reality in law, which does not come across in glossy magazines, is that living together creates absolutely no legal relationship or rights under English and Welsh law. And with it often comes disaster if the relationship breaks down and the poorer party (usually the woman) has no job, no home, no pension or income of her own and faces penury.

But as to marriage, why shouldn’t the weddings of the rich and famous be shared with us to enjoy? Doesn’t every bride dream that one day, she too will have her own dream day? And don’t magazines like Hello! or OK! sell millions of copies round the world precisely because they know we all like to share close up in the happiness of famous (often royal) couples getting married ? I just cant see what’s wrong with it.

Notwithstanding the fact that most couples are now choosing to live together than ever before, and the numbers of couples marrying is dropping like a stone, Mr Justice Coleridge is still unhappy that visions of celebrities leading an “idealised life” create “…a false expectation within the participants that in some way their relationships will be better, easier and, above all, more exciting than the average.”

We aren’t that daft surely? The statistics suggest anything but.

Aren’t celebrities who choose to share their weddings across the magazine pages rather sending a message to their audiences and readers that marriage is still something special, something to be aspired to? That even though it’s so much easier not to commit, that love deserves to celebrated by marrying?

And isn’t celebrating marriage precisely what the Marriage Foundation was set up to do?

Meanwhile of course, Royal Weddings are the most hyped of all. The billions who tuned in to watch the wedding of William and Kate are testimony to that. How we loved the glamour of such a spectacular wedding, the beautiful dress, the stunning church and glamorous guests. And is there anyone who doesn’t remember the newly weds waving gaily to the crowds of cheering well wishers who thronged the Mall as they began their married life together in the vintage Aston Martin? Romantic? Certainly. Beyond our own reach? Absolutely . Will it last? Who knows?

Does anyone, celebrity or not, ever know whether their marriage will last when they get married?

My husband and I watched Charles and Diana get married in 1981. We sat together on our settee, watching it on television, thoroughly enjoying the spectacle. At that time, that wedding too was the most hyped on the planet and it delivered in magnificent style.  Emulating the royal couple later that afternoon, we went to a local hotel and booked our own wedding!

The glamour of that royal wedding day had without doubt encouraged us to get married. It had sent the most positive messages to us; and although tragedy engulfed the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales, I am pleased to say, 30 odd years later, we are still married.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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