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