Marriage breakdown a scourge, says High Court judge

wedding The Marriage Foundation says marriage is best for couples, children and the wider society

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The breakdown of marriage is one of the "most destructive scourges" in modern UK society, says a High Court Judge.

Sir Paul Coleridge is so concerned about family breakdown, he has launched a campaign to champion marriage as the "gold standard for relationships".

Sir Paul, who sits in the Family Division, said he felt compelled to speak out because of the "unprecedented scale of the problem".

The Marriage Foundation charity was launched in London on Tuesday evening.

It has the support of many leading figures, including Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.

The foundation will campaign to improve public understanding of the "nature, benefits and importance of marriage and how healthy married relationships provide the most stable environment in which to raise children".

Start Quote

Sometimes the well-being of the individuals and their children is better served by parting”

End Quote Ayesha Vardag Divorce lawyer

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics show divorce rates in England and Wales increased by 4.9% between 2009 and 2010, from 113,949 to 119,589.

However, this follows several years of a declining rate.

The Marriage Foundation says cohabitation rose from 2.1 million couples in 2001 to 2.9 million in 2010 and is projected to rise to 3.7 million by 2031.

It says a baby born to cohabiting parents is more than 10 times more likely to see its parents separate than one born to married parents.

'Destructive'

At the launch of the foundation, Sir Paul drew on his 40 years of experience in the family law system, saying around half a million children and adults are drawn into the family law and justice system every year.

Sir Paul said: "Marriage- and family breakdown is one of the most destructive scourges of our time.

"For that reason, I have, for some years now, been trying to raise the subject whenever I have had the chance to speak publicly on the matter.

"I am now convinced that it is time not only to talk but to act. Waiting for government or others to take action is merely an excuse for moaning and inactivity."

But divorce lawyer Ayesha Vardag said that while marriage remained the gold standard of commitment, not all marriages could or should be saved.

"Sometimes the well-being of the individuals and their children is better served by parting than by remaining together in what becomes a damaging and destructive trap," she said.

"When that is so, lawyers and the couple should put their efforts into achieving fair, amicable and speedy settlement and a good relationship between each other and the children going forward."

Celebrity magazines

Sir Paul told the BBC he was not mounting a moral campaign but simply wanted to set out the facts in a "non-preachy, non-didactic way".

He said celebrity magazines like Hello promoted "unrealistic expectations" about marriage, and people needed to understand the importance of working at relationships to make them work.

"What I criticise - what I call the Hello magazine, Hollywood approach to this whole business - is that there is still, or maybe more than there was, a completely unrealistic expectation about long-term relationships and marriage in particular, that if you find the right ideal partner that's all that matters and things will just carry on from there on and you will be divinely happy.

"We all know, all of us who have been in relationships - whether married or unmarried - for a long time... that the only way that they are made to work and the only way that they become really qualitatively good is by absolutely grinding away at it.

"That's when people find that, actually, if they get through the difficulties and do get the help, they will in fact end up with a product that is really worth having."

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