Socially engineering the family

Family Law | 12 Jan 2015 3

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In the perfect world of some, all couples would marry (and therefore, most importantly, all children would be born in wedlock) and all marriages would last for life. Such a scenario would solve all of the woes of society caused by relationship breakdown. It would also save the hardworking taxpayer a substantial amount of money. In short, everyone would live happily ever after.

Except that they wouldn’t. Let me tell you a story…

A short fantasy

Once upon a time there was a land not so far away where all the men were princes and all the women were princesses. And all the young princesses dreamt of the day when they would be swept down the aisle by a handsome young prince, after which they would have lots of little princes and princesses of their own and live happily ever after.

Then one day along came a wicked witch called the ‘Divorce Reform Act 1969’, that spoilt everything. She cast a spell that caused all the princes to abandon their princesses and all the princesses to abandon their princes. Worse still, some princes and princesses began living together without walking down that aisle. Everyone who had once been so happy was now terribly unhappy.

The unhappy land needed a hero. Sure enough, one came along, by the name ‘Sir Coleridge’. Sir Coleridge bravely took on the wicked witch and tried to cast a magic spell of his own that would turn back the clocks to the happy time before the wicked witch arrived…

There, children, I will end our story for today. Will the magic spell work, or will the wicked witch have her way? You will have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, quite unrelated to the above story, it was reported that former High Court judge and Chairman of the Marriage Foundation Sir Paul Coleridge is proposing that couples be given extra tax breaks after passing landmark wedding anniversaries, in order to encourage ‘family stability’.

After reminding myself to breathe, I wondered just how many people in unhappy marriages would say to their spouse: “I can’t stand living with you, but if we stay together for two more years, we’ll get another £100 per annum cut from our income tax bill!” To which the spouse would say: “Really? That will make us so much happier – I will unpack my bags immediately!”

I’m sorry, but I think that it is insulting to suggest that stable family relationships can be bought in this way. Even more insulting was Sir Paul’s comment contained in the report to the effect that couples who choose to cohabit rather than get married should not have children. The implication that cohabitants who have children are somehow socially irresponsible is an affront to the thousands of couples up and down the country who do not feel the necessity of signing a marriage certificate or, indeed, who are positively against the institution of marriage.

Now, I’m sure Sir Paul is genuine in his concerns about family life in this country. In his career he has witnessed the results of family breakdown, in particular its effects upon the children involved, and he wants to do something to reduce the problem. However the sort of social engineering that he envisages is not only doomed to failure but also an arrogant statement that “I know best” and that people should not be free to live their lives the way they choose.

Without wishing to be complacent, I’m not certain that there is anything that can be done to ease the problem of relationship breakdown. After all, the divorce rate has been pretty steady for many years, and was only lower prior to the coming into force of the Divorce Reform Act in 1971 because it was harder then to get a divorce. Perhaps we should embark upon a campaign to educate people, particularly young people, upon the realities of families and relationships – it is remarkable that such essential life skills are not included in the school curriculum (particularly having regard to the many less than essential subjects that are included). I don’t know whether such a campaign would have an effect upon the level of relationship breakdown, but it is surely a far better approach than trying to impose outmoded and insulting views upon society.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. Guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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    1. Russell armstrong says:

      Hey I’ve got a revolutionary idea
      Let’s abolish marriages and then the divorce rate would be zero!!!
      If the government is worried about statistics then let’s do something about the statistics

    2. Nordic says:

      For once I agree entirely. Coleridge’s proposals are naive, foolish and based on deeply flawed interpretation of statistics. Undoubtedly, children are better off in families that stay together by their own accord. However, it is statistical humbug to claim that this also would apply to children in families that would have divorced, if not for a tax bribe. Any statistician will tell you that such inference have no basis whatsoever in observable data.
      Coleridge’s proposals illustrate all too well the 1950s make believe world that our senior judicial inhabits. Their job is to deal with the world as they find it and deliver a divorce process which aims at limiting the damage to families and children. Instead, they preside over what arguably is the most confrontative, discriminatory and brutal divorce process anywhere. Divorce does not need to lead to a broken home, but our family law does its best to ensure this outcome. Parliament (by their inaction) and our senior judges (by their action) bear the primary responsibility for this terrible state of affairs. It is time they be made to own up to their culpability rather than misdirect attention and priorities with such childish proposals.

    3. Luke says:

      “Coleridge’s proposals are naive, foolish and based on deeply flawed interpretation of statistics.”
      I think your words are being too kind to Coleridge on this one Nordic – I would have added some four letter ones 🙂

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