UK Family Court judge: why marriage is worth fighting for

UK Family Court judge: why marriage is worth fighting for

Madonna Brosnan (ed.)

The following are edited extracts from a statement in 2012 by British Family Court judge, Sir Paul Coleridge, when he announced the launch of The Marriage Foundation (

Anyone who has ever witnessed the goings-on inside today's family courts will be aware of the consequences. They are a never-ending carnival of human misery. And what makes this ceaseless river of distress all the more tragic is that in many of the cases there seems to be no solid reason for the divorce to be going ahead.

Some people seem to give up on their marriages simply because their partner has not been attentive towards them or variants on that; their spouse devotes too much time to work, playing golf or is simply said not to be investing enough time in the marriage.

Such "justifications" would never have been a basis for divorce in the Fifties when the stigma attached to marital breakdown was such that divorcees weren't allowed in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot.

But today the process of getting a divorce has become so streamlined that it is a simple form-filling exercise, achievable in six weeks and, if all goes smoothly, at a cost of a few hundred pounds.

It is quicker and easier than getting a driving licence. However, the impact can be devastating and long-lasting, not just for the partners and children involved, but for the wider family, local community and society in general.

The Marriage Foundation

It's for this reason that I am launching a campaign to advocate and champion the advantages of marriage under the umbrella of a charity called The Marriage Foundation (

Unfortunately, the idea that marriage should be the gold standard is regarded as judgemental and is therefore unpopular with many of the middle-class intelligentsia. An example was three years ago when the BBC became alarmed that the highly respected journalist John Ware allowed me to put forward my views as part of two long documentaries about family breakdown.

I was told these programs would be shown in the prime-time 9pm slot. But later I heard that they were being put back to the extraordinarily late time of 11.20pm when they would, of course, reach a much smaller audience. Apparently, those in charge thought the programmes "too dark".

How attitudes have changed even in the four decades since my wife Lisa and I met through mutual friends.

When we married in 1973, I was a 23-year-old lawyer, a child bridegroom compared to my 25-year-old wife to be, who was then working as a fashion writer. The differences between us went far beyond our dissimilar fields of work.

In those days I was a party-loving extrovert, while Lisa preferred the company of a few close friends. As you might expect, we had our disagreements, which tended to result in pointed silences rather than the conflagrations favoured by some couples. But over the years our roles and the sources of tension between us have changed.

If anything it's me who prefers a quiet night these days, while Lisa has become steadily more outgoing. But we have learned to work around and adjust to each other as the years have gone by.

I think part of the point is that we took the element of public commitment via our wedding vows seriously. Standing up in front of your family and friends to publicly commit to another person gives marriage a psychological stability or glue lacking in other relationships. This is backed up by evidence that is readily available and will be published by The Marriage Foundation on our website (

The evidence I find overwhelming is that married relationships are more stable and the children of such relationships fare better.

For example, a baby born to cohabiting parents is more than ten times more likely to see its parents separate than one born to married parents. Among natural parents, almost 90% of married couples were still together when their children were seven compared with just 69 per cent of couples who were cohabiting.

It is fashionable to argue that none of this matters, that marriage is simply one of many possible templates for a successful relationship. But examine the background of almost every child in care or the youth justice system and you will discover a broken home.

Children from such backgrounds are, on every measure of success, less likely to achieve their proper potential and, as their life chances ebb away, the wellbeing of our whole society suffers.

Even at the most mundane level, it is estimated that the financial cost to the nation of family breakdown exceeds the entire defence budget.

I believe that such funds could be far better spent on promoting marriage as an ideal, and in teaching people the art of making it last.

We have to rid ourselves of this fantasy that we are going to find the partner who is perfect in every way: emotionally, physically, intellectually. I'm afraid it's just a dream.

The reality is that, if you are prepared to put in the effort, you will find that the right person for you is right there in front of you; or in Lisa's case, several purposeful steps ahead of you with a guidebook when we are on holiday.

As we have discovered after many years together, our holidays work best with an agreed division of labour. I tend to be the one who decides where we should go while Lisa does all the planning and detailed research.

That plays to both of our strengths and surely that's what marriage is about: dancing around each other's differences and making it work, something far less fashionable than divorce, but infinitely worth the slog.

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