Looking for a unique, unrepeatable
Christmas gift? This year some lucky Londoners may find under their
Christmas tree a divorce voucher. Yes, you heard me right. It is a
voucher which entitles the recipient to a session with a lawyer. It
costs £125 for 30 minutes of advice and £250 for an hour, both
excluding VAT.

The bizarre scheme has been launched by Lloyd Platt & Co, a law firm specialising, ça va sans dire, in family and divorce law.

Senior partner Vanessa Lloyd Platt confirms
with satisfaction that more than 50 have been sold since they went on
sale earlier this month, with requests from husbands, wives and
mistresses. Among other customers are friends and relatives who feel
that the recipient needs professional help with their relationship.

She observes that “Christmas can be a very
stressful time for families as we have always seen by the huge increase
of people seeking advice in January”. For this reason “the vouchers
seem to appeal to an enormously wide spread spectrum of people looking
for that ‘must have’ gift for Christmas.”

I was reading this, half bemused, in the London Daily Telegraph
when the names of two gentlemen who deal with the dramatic issue of
family crisis from an interesting secular perspective came to mind.
Nothing to do with religion, faith, Church or sacraments.

The first was John Ware, a well-known BBC
journalist who defines himself as “a man without ideological baggage”.
He is the author of the documentary “The Death of Respect,” which went
to air on BBC2 at 11.20pm because the content on family breakdown was
deemed “too dark” for prime time.

Ware strongly criticizes what he calls the
“post-war experiment in individualism” which left, in the end, “a
fragmented society.”

According to Ware, “all this started in the
1970s with the increase in unmarried parents, lone parents, cohabiting
parents and step-parents,” and “in its wake came generations of
children who have been shifted from pillar to post.”

In the “rush to sweep away from the 1960s
much that was bad,” Britain “also abandoned much that was good,
including the institution of marriage.”

The point is that now, according to the BBC
journalist, “despite such authoritative warnings, ministers and their
advisors seem reconciled to the relentless rise in family breakdown and
single parenthood, seeing this as an irreversible social trend whose
expensive consequences we will just have to crisis manage.” Thus the
secular John Ware asserts that the first step to reverse the problem is
to “accept that the fragmentation of society is closely linked to the
decline of marriage.”

Another person who deals with the problem
not in a religious manner but with an approach defined as “pragmatic
common sense,” is one who knows all about divorce. He is Sir Paul
Coleridge, the judge who presided over the divorce of Heather Mills and
Sir Paul McCartney.

He presides in a courtroom in the country with the highest rate of divorce in the world.

Just for this reason Mr Justice Coleridge
has drawn the conclusion that marriage should be affirmed as the “gold
standard” of relationships in order to stem the tide of the breakdown
of families, which has become an “epidemic” and “a matter of concern
for us all, especially where so many children are infected by it”.

Sir Paul speaks of a “complete and
uncontrolled free-for-all where being true to oneself and one’s needs
is the only yardstick for controlling behaviour”. He has called for a
national commission drawn from a wide constituency to help tackle the
problem, which he claims is on a par with terrorism and economic
decline.

The great idea of divorce voucher confirms
this, though at the risk of trivializing a sociological phenomenon that
is more and more alarming.

But the best response to this eccentric scheme has come from children.

Last year, a survey of 1,600 children under
10 was carried out by Luton First, sponsors and organisers of the
fourth annual National Kids’ Day.

Asked what rules they would make if they
were king or queen of the world, most children replied they would ban,
at the top of the list, divorce and bullying – two forms of violence
against children that the distracted eyes of the parents often avoid
facing.

Gianfranco Amato practices law in Italy.