The impact of divorce should be measured in pain rather than the money, High Court judge Mr Justice Coleridge has declared.
The family court judge, set to retire next year, said in a recent speech:
“Let us never forget, when we are debating in a theoretical way, the pros and cons and ramifications of this subject, what the real cost of family breakdown is and what it looks like. It is not measured primarily in money but in sheer pain and human suffering for all the adults and children involved. And in lives permanently affected to a greater or lesser extent.”
The judge founded think tank the Marriage Foundation last year to campaign for matrimony and highlight the effects of divorce.
In the speech, published on the eve of a conference on relationship education, the former barrister said:
“Let it not be forgotten that 50 per cent of all children are not living with both parents by the time they are 15. There are millions of them and it is they who are the real victims and casualties. Their parents are too, of course, but the children are given no choice, are never consulted and only rarely considered before it and its effects are dumped into their young lives, slowly to release their legacy over the whole course of their upbringing and way beyond into their adult lives.”
He went on to compare past attitudes to divorce with current mores.
“In the old days society was held together by rigid taboos and stigmas which prevented parties from divorcing and stigmatised illegitimate children. These taboos were indiscriminate in their application and led to much inhuman behaviour and unhappiness. I am genuinely thankful they have evaporated and been consigned to the scrap heap of history in favour of individual choice.”
“However,” he continued, “if we are to enjoy freedom to choose we must be helped to understand and make the right choices for ourselves and our children. A society without boundaries is not the only alternative to nasty taboos. If we are not to have restraint by taboo, we must have personal restraint and self-imposed boundaries born of a sophisticated understanding of what makes us all, as individuals and as a society, happy and fulfilled.”
This is a topic which Sir Paul clearly feels very strongly about – strongly enough, in fact, to establish his own charity to campaign for such ideas. He makes some interesting points and I respect the sincerity of his views, but as a veteran family lawyer, I cannot agree with many of his claims.
Sir Paul concentrates far too much on the benefits of marriage. I just cannot see how some children will be helped by their parents persisting with an unhappy or dysfunctional marriage. Doing so could send a message that it is okay to beat up mummy or abuse daddy, and nothing will happen. Children made to endure an unhappy relationship will surely be damaged, and many will be left with the impression, even if it is only subconscious, think that all marriages are equally miserable.
I also do not think people get divorced too easily. The divorce rate is actually falling. I think and truly believe the real problem we face are the ever-growing numbers of broken but unmarried families. There are so many because there is no regulation of them in law. If unmarried parents had significant financial obligations to their former partners when they broke up, surely more would think twice about doing so.
It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it? At the moment you may face paying a substantial sum on divorce but you can leave a cohabiting relationship with barely a penny to pay.
Level the playing field in relation to remedies – that will really help the children.