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The Government and Family Dismemberment

The Government and Family Dismemberment

In the Government’s plan for ‘no-fault’ divorce, either party may send their marriage to the tip without giving a reason. The judiciary are leading deconstructionists. Way back, President of the Supreme Court Baroness Hale (formerly barrister Brenda Hoggett), was opining how we should “be considering whether the legal institution of marriage continues to serve any useful purposes.”

Sir James Munby, former President of the Family Division of the High Court, is enthralled by the “modern” family’s “infinite variety of forms”. There are couples and threesomes with ‘partners’ of any sexual mix, he recently commented approvingly. Children with one, two or three or more ‘parents’, together with half and step-siblings or the results of donor insemination, foreign surrogacy or born to a ‘man’ transitioning from a female.  Munby urges us to “welcome and applaud” this “reality” of random living and breeding arrangements. Sadly, he finds the pace of change “maddeningly slow” when it comes to reaching that Utopia where nothing limits the spontaneity of the ‘project of self ‘– as Tony Blair’s court sociologist Anthony Giddens would have it.

Alongside this, it is becoming compulsory for children to be presented from infancy onwards with a spectrum of ‘family forms’ and sexual behaviours to endorse and celebrate. This contrasts with how two parent married families have been long mocked as unrepresentative, ridiculous and outmoded, even if these are still (just) the majority.

Under the current law, a divorce on grounds of irretrievable marriage breakdown is available after two years if there is adultery, desertion, unreasonable behaviour, mutual consent, or by one side’s petition after five years separation.  It is now proposed that, after a year, the union may be dissolved simply by unilateral notification.  Marriage thereby becomes a contract which can be broken without citing any fault by the other party or any with consequences for opting out. Alongside this are the ‘intolerable injustices’ to be remedied by giving cohabitees the remaining marital rights to inheritance and pensions. Marriage is abolished in all but name.

This supposedly recognises that people ‘change all the time’ and, if they become discontented, should be able to call it quits.  Removed are pressures to work at relationships. Instead, everyone will be able to keep a foot out of the door, ready to jump if another opportunity presents itself.  Marriage would no longer be a permanent agreement or a committed relationship, with serious obligations and responsibilities for the parties to each other, their children and society.

Decades of investigation has shown that the oft dismissed and despised ‘nuclear’ family produces healthier and more successful offspring in all measurable aspects – while children growing up in other family groupings have more problems with education, health, delinquency and abuse, which, taken together, cost the tax payer around £50 billion per year.  Marriage ensures that men are responsible protectors of their community, rather than its predators.  Such overwhelmingly mono-directional findings are truly rare in social research – and rare as any place for evidence in social policy.

The ‘no fault, no talk’ abolitionists make much of how people fail to grasp that the present law does not actually examine responsibility for breakdown.  People must be disabused of this ‘unsound perception (of blame)’, the argument runs, and the law explicitly brought in line with practice. Otherwise, according to Munby, it is based on “hypocrisy and lack of intellectual honesty”.

However, hypocrisy is a tribute vice pays to virtue. The hypocrite, who says one thing but does another, says it because he recognises that it is the right option. Law, hollow or not, sends out messages. Here it signals what marriage entails, and gives due recognition to what breaks it, without which there are no guidelines or no rules or expectations for behaviour. No adultery: no fidelity or sexual faithfulness. No desertion: no mutual care and collaboration. No unreasonable behaviour: just do as you like or jump if you don’t like it.

Exponents of ‘no-fault’ overlook how matters like the division of assets and parental rights can be presently decided on the basis of serious fault. Indeed, their line appears to be that any and all behaviour, however bad, is irrelevant.  But should there really be no available recourse for those deserted or abused? Surely, to maintain this makes a mockery of justice? As it is, the proposals put vulnerable people under pressure and at risk of exploitation. A spouse, for example, could say: “I am not looking after you now that you are infirm/ill. Pay up so that I can start anew.” Where the stronger party can enforce divorce for no reason, the weaker has more to lose and cannot even publicly assert the wrongs suffered.

As with previous wrecking moves, propaganda has it that ‘no- fault’ divorce will reinvigorate marriage.  What is bad is conflict, proponents say, and, with divorce freely available without any reliance on cause, this would be removed. Thus people freed from their ‘mistakes’ can float along in a harmoniously blissful haze, unconsciously coupling and uncoupling and entirely unhindered by nasty relics like rules, standards and judgements of right and wrong. The impression given is that marriages break down all by themselves or the institution itself does it, and has nothing to do with human behaviour.

This is plainly fallacious.  If anyone can opt out of marriage without a reason, how is animosity avoided rather than inflamed?  People like to know why something is happening, particularly when dramatic changes of fortune are involved. Clear reasons and explanation for separation can be less stressful than none.   Evidence suggests that children may be more adversely affected when their parents “smoothly uncouple” – which leaves them at a loss to know why. They may blame themselves and assume that relationships cannot be depended on if they disintegrate for no apparent reason.  As least when there is conflict or bad behaviour, the reason is clear – and separation can be a relief.

Contrary to expectations, a large-scale European study found that children were more affected as divorce became more common and occurred at lower levels of conflict.  The consequence of more low-conflict divorce is more problems, not less.

Further liberalising divorce and merging cohabitation with marriage is likely to increase family breakdown and its costs.  Marriage should be supported and encouraged because of its benefits to individuals and society; not further disincentivised.


For further information, see:

Various politicians have put together “A Manifesto To Strengthen Families” which contains several concrete policy recommendations. Source:


Patricia Morgan

Writer and journalist

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