This 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 is a family law blogger