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3 January 2012

Victorian ideals - or an idea for our time?


Mahie Abey

A couple of years ago I heard a lecture given by High Court Family Judge Paul Coleridge at the Resolution (the association of family solicitors) annual conference, in which he made an impassioned speech about the breakdown of family life and society generally and the effect that was having on children across the country. Whilst it was impressive to hear a senior judge actually express an opinion on the ills in society I thought it was just an outburst which would soon be forgotten by both his audience and himself.

How wrong I was. I read in today’s Times that he has just set up a foundation, The Marriage Foundation, to promote marriage. On first glance it could appear rather a Victorian idea, promoted by an out of touch member of the senior judiciary. I don’t think that is the case though.

I have a lot of time for Paul Coleridge. I don’t know him personally but have done cases in front of him where I have been impressed by the extent to which he is in touch with normal people and seems to care about those individuals who appear in his court.

So what are his motives in setting up this foundation? The short answer appears to be primarily the well being of children. At various points in the article he says:

‘My focus is on the children. I am unashamedly advocating marriage as the gold standard for couples where children are involved…. You are four times more likely to break up before your child is 5 years old if you are not married…. There are an estimated 3.8 million children caught up in the family justice system. I personally think that is a complete scandal.’

I have to say I agree with every word. Whilst living together works for many, and many are discouraged from getting married because of the prospect of the economic consequences of divorce, marriage is still an extra commitment that tends to lead to more stability in bringing up children. Of course that is not universally the case I know but statistically it is true.

I think his funding model is genius in that he expect family solicitors and barristers to endorse its aims and therefore presumably to provide the funding. Again a quote from today’s Times:

‘The profession has made its fortune from marital breakdown; it is now time to put something in.’

I think many family lawyers genuinely believe in the institution of marriage (largely because they spend their professional lives dealing with the effects of when it doesn’t work) and that they will wholeheartedly support Paul Coleridge’s cause.

The first working day after the Christmas break is traditionally known as a busy one for divorce lawyers - so I thought it better to write a piece promoting the institution of marriage.

My mother would be so proud.