A senior High Court judge has hit out at couples who ditch each other instead of trying to make their relationships work – condemning their children to the trauma of an unstable home.
Sir Paul Coleridge has launched a campaign to promote marriage and reverse the ‘appalling’ impact of family breakdown in the face of soaring divorce rates.
The judge, who has previously bemoaned divorce as easier than getting a driving licence, said the millions of children currently being fought over in the family courts were a ‘complete scandal’.
And in a controversial move for a serving judge, he is setting up a foundation to promote marriage as figures show that divorce is on the rise.
It comes on the day lawyers say is traditionally the busiest for divorce petitions.
Due to tension in families over the Christmas period, January sees the number of enquiries double – with the first working day of the year being the busiest.
Sir Paul condemned what he called couples’ ‘recycling’ attitudes in ending relationships when they have children to think of.
He told The Times: ‘My message is mend it — don’t end it. Over 40 years of working in the family justice system, I have seen the fall-out of these broken relationships.
‘There are an estimated 3.8million children currently caught up in the family justice system. I personally think that’s a complete scandal.’
Sir Paul, 62, who is married with three children and three grandchildren, also said marriage is better for children than cohabitation and advocated it as the ‘gold standard’.
He added: ‘You are four times more likely to break up before your child is five years old if you are not married.
His comments will give cheer to those alarmed by the rise in marriage breakdowns in recent years.
But critics have questioned whether it is right for a judge in his position to take sides on the matter.
Anastasia de Waal, director of family and education at think-tank Civitas, said: ‘It is very important where you’ve got a judge who is making decisions about families that they are not clouded by a particular view but are looking at what is going to serve the family.’
Sir Paul spent three decades as a family barrister before 2000, when he became a High Court judge.
– SIR PAUL COLERIDGE
Earlier this year he criticised the divorce system for reducing the breakdown of marriage to a basic form-filling exercise.
His Marriage Foundation has been backed by top names in the judiciary and legal profession, including Baroness Butler-Sloss, the former President of the Family Division.
It is also supported by Baroness Deech, a leading family academic and currently chairman of the Bar Standards Board and Baroness Shackleton, a leading family lawyer whose divorce clients have included the Prince of Wales and Sir Paul McCartney.
He also anticipates other judges to get on board, as well as some family solicitors and barristers.
Annual funding of £150,000 has been raised for the foundation, which would commission research, hold conferences, produce publications and lobby for ‘family-friendly’ policies.
Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that last year England and Wales saw 119,589 divorces — up by 4.9 per cent on the previous year.
Tax breaks have been promised for married couples by the Prime Minister – although this is opposed by his deputy Nick Clegg.
But Sir Paul said: ‘Governments cannot legislate stronger relationships into existence. Ultimately, more and stronger marriages will result from individual choices, behaviour and culture. We will seek to influence those choices.’