UK lone parent capital of Western Europe

10-Oct-2014

Latest data shows the UK has the highest rate of family breakdown in Western Europe. Figures calculated by Eurostat, the EU’s primary statistics body, and uncovered by The Marriage Foundation show that, for the first time, the UK has the highest proporti...

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Marriage Foundation responds to the Prime Minister's 'family test' announcement

18-Aug-2014

Marriage Foundation welcomes the Prime Minister's support for the family but warns that without explicit support for marriage, the new initiatives will have little or no impact on family breakdown.

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Penelope Leach's 'Family Breakdown'

23-Jul-2014

Paul Coleridge writes in his Foreword to this new book: "This should be obligatory reading for anyone even contemplating the ending of a relationship where children are involved."

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Nearly half of today’s 20 year olds will never marry

06-Jun-2014

MF research shows 47 per cent of women and 48 per cent of men aged twenty will never marry.

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On Saturday April 28, The Times published an article by Frances Gibb, Legal Editor, under the heading "Judges must speak out, says founder of marriage charity". 

A senior judge has defended the right of judges to speak out on public concerns. Sir Paul Coleridge, a High Court family judge who will launch a charity next week to tackle the "crisis of family breakdown", said that if judges saw something wrong from their own experiences in the courts they had a duty to warn people about it.

It was the same, he said, as doctors alerting the public to an epidemic that they had detected. "It would be irresponsible to remain quiet," he said.

Sir Paul, 62, has 40 years' experience in the family courts, as a family barrister and, since 2000, as a judge. He is setting up the Marriage Foundation, a charity with no political or religious affiliations, to tackle "the appalling and costly impact of family breakdown".

He is concerned about the impact of marriage breakdown on children: an estimated 3.8 million children are currently caught up in the family justice system.

The Marriage Foundation, which has attracted 300 supporters, seeks to raise £150,000 to fund research and be a "first port of call" on marriage.

His comments will fuel the debate about judges voicing their views. Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, the Master of the Rolls, warned judges last month about the dangers of engaging in public debate, saying that "only in very exceptional circumstances" should a judge express his or her views out of court.

In a separate speech, Lady Justice Hallett said that judges should not "descend into the political arena".

Sir Paul, who is married with three children and three grandchildren, said that all judges brought their life experiences to work. "Of course it would be unseemly to comment on the defence budget or NHS reforms. But if judges cannot comment on what they find in the work they do, who will?" He said there was a "schizophrenic" view of judges. "On the one hand we are meant to be gloriously isolated from the real world and so don't allow anything to interfere with this concept called justice, and in the next breath we are accused of being out of touch."


On the following day, Sunday April 29, The Sunday Times published an interview by Margarette Driscoll with Paul Coleridge. 


In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, an aged, half-crazed sailor accosts guests on the way to a wedding party. The mariner has just returned from a harrowing voyage, cursed by ill-luck, in which every one of his crew mates perished. Against the "merry din" of the wedding, he relates his tale of woe.

Two centuries after Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote the classic, his great-great-great-great-great nephew, the High Court judge Sir Paul Coleridge, finds himself in a curiously similar position: he is out of step with society, he has been a witness to horrors and he is trying to get someone to listen.

This week Coleridge will launch the Marriage Foundation, an organisation fighting family breakdown and promoting the joys of married life. A career spent dealing with complex and bitter divorce cases, first as a barrister and latterly a judge, has left Coleridge baffled as to why otherwise sensible people get drawn into protracted and expensive disputes when they could have channelled their energy and intelligence into getting their marriage back on track.

"Mend it, don't end it," is his advice to couples in trouble. "The truth is that splitting families is like splitting the atom. You get enormous quantities of pent-up emotional energies that spill out and are completely unpredictable, plus all sorts of collateral damage that nobody expected," he says.

His foundation plans to use social networking sites, "viral" videos and youth mentoring programmes to persuade young people of the benefits of getting hitched. It also seeks to become the "voice" of the pro-marriage lobby and the "go-to" destination for people seeking help with problem relationships.

Coleridge, 62, has attracted legal luminaries as backers and patrons, including Baroness Butler-Sloss, former president of the family division, and Baroness Shackleton, who acted for Prince Charles in his divorce from Diana, Princess of Wales and for Sir Paul McCartney in his split from Heather Mills. Coleridge also has the support of the Chief Rabbi and the Archbishop of York, who will speak alongside him at the launch.

Alas, society seems impervious to his message that, ultimately, happiness lies in getting married and staying that way: there were some 241,000 marriages in England and Wales in 2010, fewer than there were a century ago, and 120,000 divorces, up 4.9% on the previous year. Some 400,000 cases are heard in family courts each year.

The biggest rise -- by 10% in the past decade -- is in the divorce rate among the over-50s, the very people most likely to agree with Coleridge that marriage is the best environment in which to bring up children. But having "done the right thing", once they have brought up their children it seems these so-called silver splitters discover they want more from life than sitting out a marriage that no longer makes them happy.

Now people will get divorced in their seventies. And the fallout is just not appreciated "When I started, that absolutely never happened. You did not get people divorcing after 30 years, because the attitude was "I've stuck it this long, I might as well see it through to the end," says Coleridge.

"Now people will get divorced in their seventies. And the fallout is just not appreciated. The idea that the stability of the family doesn't matter once your children have flown the nest is one of the great myths of our time."

His work brings him into daily contact with the worst that couples can throw at one another. Even routine divorce cases can be gut-wrenching. Couples end up there only because they cannot -- or will not -- come to an amicable agreement.

Coleridge talks of a recent case in which a husband and wife were at each other's throats, teenage children had been moved backwards and forwards, there had been threats of violence and allegations of sexual abuse of the couple's 13-year-old daughter by the wife's new boyfriend. "Absolutely stock in trade, completely routine," he says. "You could come in and hear a case like that any day of the week. Sometimes you despair that anything will ever be done to help."

He believes the outlook for the children dragged into such cases is bleak. They may never recover from the emotional upset, and the cost to society of clearing up the mess caused by the "recycling" of partners is nothing short of calamitous.

Research by the Youth Justice Board found 70% of young offenders were from broken families. A recent report estimated the cost of dealing with the consequences of family breakdown in Britain (though the figure is contentious as many believe poverty to be the root cause of social breakdown) at £44 billion a year.

"I'm not interested in morality; I'm interested in outcomes," says Coleridge. "We now have tons and tons of data that show marriages are a more stable, better environment for children, and this is not about preaching but laying the facts before people in a neutral way.

"You will get absolutely nowhere if you preach. When you start talking about 'back to basics' this or that or 'restoring family values' there's a big yawn; people tiptoe for the door. They don't want to hear that, and in a sense I don't blame them. But I think people will respond to the hard data about what this is doing to the country."

Coleridge himself married in 1973 when he was a pupil at the bar and his wife Judith, a boatbuilder's daughter, was an aspiring fashion journalist. It was a simple ceremony, with a reception in her father's boatyard, the whole thing over in three hours. "We ate a few bridge rolls and drank some champagne. I'd spent my gap year travelling in Greece and wanted to show my wife the place, so we honeymooned, but it was January and freezing with snow everywhere. We were on the ninth floor of the only hotel that was open and there wasn't another person in the place."

Despite that inauspicious start, they have stayed together. "Like everybody, we have had good times and bad times, and you have to sort them out," he says. The simple wedding they had was typical of the time. The grand party many young people, fed on a diet of celebrity "dream" weddings, want now can seem an unattainable luxury.

"The Hollywood/Hello! image of marriage has a great deal to answer for. The more we've spent on weddings, the greater the rate of family breakdown. The graphs would be interesting to plot," he says. "People also seem to think good, stable marriages arrive fully formed and drop out of the sky, and if you're lucky you'll catch one. But, actually, long, stable marriages are carved out of the rock of human stubbornness and selfishness and difficulties. The way you make them work is by chipping away bits over the years so you end up with something beautiful."

Coleridge's sincerity is clear, and he is aware of the contradictions inherent in urging people to mend marriages after making a career -- and presumably a small fortune -- in an adversarial court system often blamed for worsening ill-feeling between couples. One leading divorce lawyer called him "a poacher turned gamekeeper". At a recent conference on family law he talked of "wars being prolonged by cynical arms dealers" (that is, divorces being made worse by greedy lawyers) and "I was nearly lynched! Or let's say it led to a very spirited exchange".

Undaunted, he declares that the foundation will be "the most important thing I have ever done, and I am determined it will make a difference". But he is facing an uphill struggle. The day we met, a survey of couples who married at the same time as Prince William and Kate Middleton, just one year ago, was published: one in eight said they were already regretting it.