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Don’t have children if you aren’t ready for marriage, judge says

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.

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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  1. JamesB says:

    I was listening to your friend Harry Benson on radio five live this morning on this subject. He comes across well.

    I don’t agree with him though. He did not address any of the issues why people are not marrying and that it seems to be an aspiration that only the relatively well off can afford. Poorer people are more likely to separate anyway due to the couples tax premium on having children in a couple and also less likely to marry as men are hammered in divorce in that space also and it makes no sense to them.

    Unfortunately Harry did not address any of these points. He pretended that they did not exist and thus his views won’t be widely viewed as constructive as they don’t address the issue. The issue being why people are not marrying. Just saying that they should isn’t good enough.

    It’s Marie Antoinnette quote “Let them eat cake” from a middle class chap telling working class people how to behave.

    I would have a lot more respect if it were Alan Sugar or someone with working class roots if I am going to have a morallity lesson, or to preach to the population about marriage. Bring on Barry McGuigan and change the law on divorce or prenups and contact asap please. Then we might have a proper back to basics campaign.

    Was like John Major going on about back to basics while ‘being with’ Edwina. Actually the more I think about it the more Harry and this Judge wind me up.

    They should walk a mile in the shoes of the people they Judge. Try bringing up an autistic child with a bi polar Mum on a limited budget with an alcoholic father in law (as I did) and then tell me we should have stayed together. etc.

    A big pathetic Establishment wind-up this one!

  2. Paul says:

    What the judge is saying, James, and very firmly I think, is get to know your spouse-to-be first, before marrying. Did you really find out what you were taking on with yours? There’s a ton of deranged or damaged people out there who would never make good spouses for most of us (although there’s probably still someone right for everyone) and due diligence is required. Talking of tons, I was once told of an old Italian saying – you never get to know your wife until you’ve eaten a ton of salt together! That’s a good saying but a tough ask at the beginning when “love is blind” too!

  3. JamesB says:

    A ton of salt!

  4. Luke says:

    “What the judge is saying, James, and very firmly I think, is get to know your spouse-to-be first, before marrying.”

    Funnily enough I don’t actually think the evidence supports this, arranged marriages actually seem to do a bit better.

    My own view is that nobody has any real idea what the marriage is going to be like 10-20 years down the line and to some extent it is just luck.

    Sadly I also think that men and women are not designed to stay together forever – and women are less likely to stay in a marriage than men. This is not to blame women – men have their own issues – I think evolution is at play here and women are naturally hypergamous.

    I think the reason the divorce rate is not even higher is the fear of the unknown and the upset and strife divorce will cause. Some people take the view that staying in a marriage that has some degree of unhappiness in it is the better option – and how much unhappiness they are prepared to tolerate varies from person to person.

  5. Andrew says:

    I remember a teacher of Classics at school – forty-odd years ago – who remarked (about marriage in the ancient Roman world) that in arranged marriages the families are sure to get along, having chosen each other, and that must enhance the chance of the marriage prospering.

    He was a cynical b*gger but he might have had a point.

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