Should we be judgmental about parents who separate? by John Bolch

Children|Divorce|Family Law|January 15th 2014

SuitcasesThis morning I read with a little dismay a story that appeared in The Telegraph yesterday. The story told us that certain Conservative MPs believe that “for the sake of the country” we should be more “judgemental” and criticise parents who split up.

The reasoning appears to go something like this. Family breakdown is costing the taxpayer ‘tens of billions of pounds a year’, presumably on such things as benefits, legal aid, social services and crime. Accordingly, it follows that the taxpayer should have the right to condemn couples who use up their tax money by separating.

Now, I practised as a family lawyer for about twenty-five years. In that time I dealt with thousands of clients whose relationships had just broken down. I don’t recall coming across one single client who wanted their relationship to break down before it did. I’m not saying they weren’t responsible for the breakdown of their relationships, at least in part, but I don’t think any of them set out to bring the relationship to an end.

I also never came across a client who chose to separate from their partner just so that they could claim benefits or legal aid.

On the contrary, all of my clients found themselves in a place they didn’t want to be, and I’m sure that this is the experience of all family lawyers. Those clients didn’t want to be dealing with the breakdown of their relationship all that that entails – seeing a solicitor, going to court, claiming legal aid, claiming benefits etc.

To vilify someone for something they didn’t want to happen seems to me to be particularly cruel.

I suppose there is the argument that “they should have stayed together for the sake of the children”.

I’m afraid I’ve never bought into this argument. For a start, many relationship breakdowns involve violence and obviously in those circumstances the parties cannot stay together.

But even where there isn’t violence, I wouldn’t advocate staying together for the children. Even where they don’t witness their parents arguing, most children pick up upon the friction between their parents and realise that something is wrong. Living under such circumstances must surely have a detrimental effect upon the children. Wouldn’t it be better for their parents to separate, preferably amicably, and for there to be two ‘happy’ households?

I really can’t see how being judgemental towards parents who separate or condemning them is going to achieve anything, other than make unhappy people feel even worse or even make them feel like some sort of social pariah. And if the knowledge that such treatment is in store for those whose relationships have broken down discourages them from separating, then that is only going to fan the flames of unhappy relationships, to the detriment not just of themselves but also their children.

Photo by Salihan Laugesen via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

John Bolch

 

 

 

 

John Bolch is a family law blogger

Author: John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

Comments(5)

  1. Tristan says:

    What ignoramus tory MPs do when they pronounce with one-sided vigour on an important topic they evidently know little about, is simply turn otherwise conservative folk like me into single-issue voters for other parties.

    What an irony that the conservatives blew a golden chance to invoke radical changes to the Children Act and surrounding social policy. These two-faced politicians turned their backs on the majority of separated fathers who seek to remain involved in raising their own children.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Far be it from me to support anything that the sleazy Conservatives propose, but I think that destroying the lives of children because your husband does not earn enough, you are bored and selfishly crave something new, or you resent some mistake he has made, is deserving of some judgment.

    Problem right now is that only one party is severely judged, and afterward treated very badly, while the other is given a pat on the back, told it is not their fault that things broke down, and then lavished with all kinds of support. It’s institutional sexism perfected.

    Unfortunately, we are always looking to judge and punish (and it seems more profitable for the legal industry to turn parents into warmongers with a clear loser and winner), when surely it would be more intelligent to offer more support and praise.

    Everything to do with family legislation just lacks intelligence, and will remain inhumane so long as it continues to judge one party alone.

  3. JamesB says:

    I think you miss the point Anonymous, that they want to be judgemental about both the men and women involved in order to stop the women petitioning via peer dissapproval or something similar.

    From some of the unworthy abuse by the Mum’s brigade (such as at primary school gates especially) I got and get when I rarely see them I think them (the men slagger-offers) lot need a lot more abuse thrown at them. So I probably see where they are coming from. At least Milliband v Cameron to me is a better choice then Blair v Howard. Not saying much though and I still think they (politicians) are detached from the vast majority of the population.

  4. Tracy W says:

    When there are kids, how often do divorced couples manage to stop fighting?

  5. Yvie says:

    I am surprised these politicians have the nerve to criticise anyone. The whole system, devised by them, is set up to encourage and promote single parenthood. It doesn’t take much of a brain for mothers in low income households, to work out that they would be in a far better position to ditch dad, move in another ‘undeclared’ partner, and claim all the benefits they can. What happens to the children’s fathers is of no interest to the state, other than to point the finger of blame. State interference, but not help, in the form of the CSA, will make a swift appearance, but that is something the majority of fathers who already support their children, could well do without.

    I was in agreement with a comment made by Peter Hitchens in the Sunday Mail this morning to the effect that whilst these politicians appear to portray the ideal happy family, it is completely at odds to their policies, which massively subsidise fatherless homes. He goes on to say that they should themselves openly live the cruel, child-unfriendly lives that they force millions of others to follow.

    I am in agreement with anonymous, particular with his comment that family legislation will remain inhumane as long as it continues to judge one party alone.

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