Couples should not have children unless their relationship is serious enough for marriage, a High Court judge declared.
Sir Paul Coleridge, set to retire from the judiciary next year, said parents had responsibilities rather than rights, and couples who lived together without marriage should think twice before having children.
He told the Telegraph:
“I don’t think [cohabiting couple] should have children until they are sure that their relationship is stable enough to cope with the stresses and strains. If your relationship is not stable enough to cope with children you should not have them.”
The judge, co-founder of campaign group the Marriage Foundation, added: “But the reality of the family is very simple. If your relationship is stable enough to cope with the rigours of child rearing then you should consider seriously adding the protection of marriage to your relationship.”
But don’t Mr Justice Coleridge’s concerns apply equally to married couples? Marriage doesn’t confer a magic “seal of stability” upon a relationship. In my experience the feuding parents criticised by Sir Paul Coleridge, who put their own “rights” above those of their children, are just as likely to proliferate within the wedded ranks.
That said, I am a strong supporter of marriage, and of having children within marriage – as a family lawyer, it is difficult not to be. I witness, at first hand, the consequences of family breakdown when the parents aren’t married. My firm’s offices are consulted by an increasing number of cohabitees who are shocked to learn that the law can do relatively little for them following the breakdown of their relationships. Many are left in financially precarious positions.
In England and Wales couples who choose not to marry, or who may not be able to marry for a variety of reasons, have few automatic rights in law. In Scotland there is a sound cohabitation law, which does not give couples the same rights as spouses, but which does provide limited redress if the relationship ends. I see no reason why such legislation could not be introduced across the rest of the UK.