Divorce and cohabitation are wrecking Britain, says judge

Carolyn Moynihan
18 Jul 2011
Reproduced with Permission

Sir Paul ColeridgeYou might think from the millions of words spilled on the subject lately that the worst thing to have happened to British society in the past 50 years is the News of the World phone hacking scandal. It's not. A more serious contender is divorce, according to a senior family court judge.

Sir Paul Coleridge took the opportunity of a BBC radio interview to drive home a message he has repeated more than once: divorce is wrecking the lives of British children and the whole of society. If all parties agreed, he said, a couple could get a divorce in six weeks -- in less time than it takes to get a driving licence -- simply by filling out a form, but the result was 3.8 million children whose fate was at the mercy of the courts.

And there was no sign that the misery of large numbers of children hit by family break-up was diminishing. If anything the trend was getting worse. It affected everyone from the Royal Family down and rippled out into the whole of society, the Daily Mail reported.

The judge, who has been married to his wife Judith for 38myears and has two sons and a daughter, was highly critical of the cohabitation trend, which has accelerated the breakdown of relationships where there are children:

On the day official figures showed that nearly half of all babies are now born to unmarried mothers, Sir Paul blamed family break-up on social changes including the shift in attitudes towards cohabitation and increasing numbers of children born outside marriage.

He said that 50 years ago 'on the whole cohabitation was regarded as something you didn't do, to have a child outside marriage, so that created a framework that stopped very much breakdown.

'We've had a cultural revolution in sexual morality and sexual behaviour,' the judge said. 'We need to have a reasonable debate about it and decide what needs to be done - and I don't mean Government,' he said. 'They didn't cause the problem.'

He added that the change in social attitudes over the past five decades had given people 'complete freedom of choice'.

This was 'great' when they behaved responsibly, he added, but some seemed to think it was a 'free-for-all'. Sir Paul said the rate of family breakdown among unmarried couples was far higher than among married ones.

It was statistically proven parents were far more likely to stay together until their children's 16th birthday if they were married, he said.

Official figures suggest that an average marriage lasts around 11 years, but a cohabitation is likely to break up in three if the partners do not marry.

Sir Paul has also called for the government to set up an independent commission to reform marriage, divorce and family laws.

Isn't it great to hear so much sense from a leading citizen and family court judge.