At last, a judge tells the truth about divorce
Published in: Daily Mail
At last, a member of the judiciary has broken ranks to warn of a social disaster that has taken place on the courts’ own watch.
Tomorrow, a High Court family judge, Sir Paul Coleridge, will launch a foundation to promote marriage and to warn of the catastrophic consequences of family breakdown.
Britain is blighted by serial divorce and a corresponding erosion of marriage. In 2010, there were some 241,000 marriages in England and Wales, fewer than a century ago, and 120,000 divorces, up by almost 5 per cent on the previous year.
This has gone hand in hand with a galloping increase in elective lone parenthood and cohabitation, whose own high rate of breakdown has poured petrol on to the flames of mass fatherlessness.
An appalling 3.8 million children are now caught up in the entrails of the family justice system, with as many as 320,000 new children each year being sucked in.
Sir Paul does not mince his words. As he so rightly says, family breakdown is the ‘scourge of society’.
Families do not recover from the fundamental shock it administers. Children dragged into such cases may never recover from the emotional upset, and the cost to society of clearing up the mess is calamitous.
Yet as he also says, obtaining a divorce is ‘easier than getting a driving licence’.
People think they can just dispose of a spouse because they fancy someone new or different. And he calls upon couples not to have children unless their relationship is stable — which means not cohabiting but getting married.
How refreshing to hear someone in public life so robustly tell the un-PC truth like this. As a family law specialist barrister for some three decades before becoming a judge in the family courts, Sir Paul has personally stared into the heart of this particular darkness.
So, too, have the other lawyers who have joined him as patrons of his foundation, including Baroness Butler-Sloss, former president of the High Court Family Division, and Baroness Shackleton, who acted for Prince Charles in his divorce from Diana, Princess of Wales.
This is not, however, just a group of people who happen to be particularly knowledgeable about the effects of divorce. The courts and the legal world they represent are directly complicit in this disaster.
Indeed, Sir Paul even likens his own profession to ‘cynical arms dealers’ making a living from weapons of family destruction. All credit to them, therefore, for biting the hand that has fed them.
At the core of this devastating social problem is that what should be regarded as a misfortune to be avoided has become reconfigured as lifestyle choice — one which is immune from criticism.
This has normalised the free-for-all of family breakdown and caused a rising tide of damage and misery for men, women and, above all, children. For more than three decades, lawyers and judges have led the way in bringing about this seismic cultural shift by progressively liberalising the practice of family law.
Judges declared they could not ‘look into people’s souls’ to decide who was actually to blame for the breakdown of a marriage. So the courts in effect decided that no one was to blame.
Marriage breakdown thus became something that just happened, like an act of God; with no one said to be responsible, a principal social constraint on ending a marriage fell away.
As the family law expert Baroness Deech, one of the foundation’s patrons, herself observed many years ago, this liberal approach by the lawyers created a political and legal ratchet effect.
As the restrictions on divorce or fatherless families fell into legal disuse, law reformers and politicians then proceeded to bring the law into line with changing attitudes — and their new laws were in turn liberally interpreted by the courts, creating pressure for further liberalisation.
The institutionally liberal Law Commission recommended one liberalising family measure after another, such as easier divorce, ending the stigma of illegitimacy or establishing equal rights for cohabitants, both gay and straight.
At the same time, New Left thinking about radical and non-judgmental ‘lifestyle choice’ swept through the intelligentsia. One baleful result was that supposedly objective research itself became corrupted.
The truth became not only unsayable but unknowable, as government researchers airbrushed the category of marriage out of official statistics, making it impossible to quantify the effects of different kinds of relationship.
Academic researchers who tried to tell the truth about the devastating effects of divorce on children found themselves professionally ostracised and at risk of having their grant funding cut.
The actual damage to children from divorce and elective lone parenthood was further masked and minimised by other researchers, who were either consumed by guilt over their abandonment of their own children, or cravenly chose to go with the flow.
Meanwhile, research carried out mainly in the U.S. which produced overwhelming evidence of the relative harm done by family breakdown in virtually every area of children’s lives, was wickedly brushed aside.
Of course, there are many lone parents who do a heroic job against all the odds raising their children well. And there are some situations where it is indeed best for truly warring or abusive couples to part.
But research has shown that most marriages are not broken by such extremes but merely by grumbling dissatisfaction. And in that kind of situation, it is usually better for the children if the parents stay together.
To which liberals have sneered that staying together ‘for the sake of the children’ is a cruel and heartless doctrine.
But since when was putting the welfare of their children ahead of parents’ own interests considered cruel and heartless? Only since society decided that children were an inconvenient obstacle to the right of parents to live lives of unfettered selfishness.
Now Sir Paul has decided someone has to break through all this lethal nonsense.
This is a move that is not without risks. Judges are not supposed to express their opinions, and his trenchant remarks may well cause some sharp teeth-sucking below the grandest of the wigs.
For sure, the last thing we want is politicised judges. But Sir Paul likens his initiative to a doctor alerting the public to an epidemic he has discovered, in the face of which it would be irresponsible to remain quiet.
Moreover, this is an epidemic for which the courts themselves bear no small measure of responsibility. Now, aghast at the consequences they see, Sir Paul and his colleagues want to bring everyone to their senses.
The importance of such a statement by such a group is not to be underestimated. But it won’t be enough if politicians refuse to follow their lead.
The Prime Minister has consistently promised to support marriage, and the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith is tirelessly trying to reverse the welfare state’s role in accelerating family breakdown.
But to rescue marriage, you have to criticise and discourage un-marriage, or elective lone parenthood — and that is something Mr Cameron is notably reluctant to do.
Indeed, thanks to the family-wrecking Lib Dems the Government hasn’t even managed to get off the starting blocks in supporting marriage through the tax system.
Too many who should have known better have simply sold the pass on the toll of childhood misery and social harm inflicted by family breakdown.
For evil to triumph, it only needs good men to stay silent. Thank goodness Mr Justice Coleridge has decided he will not be one of them.