LONDON, UK, May 17, 2011 ( – “The terribly high incidence of family breakdown” in the UK demands sweeping reform, according to Sir Paul Coleridge, a justice in the family division of the High Court, in a speech to the Christian charity, CARE, in London last week.


Coleridge called on the government of David Cameron to make reforms in marriage and divorce legislation to address the problem.

The judge has consistently promoted stable marriage as the key to a stable society and the antidote to the “social anarchy” of family breakdown and its disastrous effects on children.

In 2009, Justice Coleridge delivered a speech to Parliament where he charged that couples engaging in a commitment-less game of “pass the partner” have left millions of children “scarred for life.”

“I am drawing attention to the endless game of ‘musical relationships,’ or ‘pass the partner,’ in which such a significant portion of the population is engaged. The children are caught up in the conflict of their parents’ unresolved relationship issues and it can leave them scarred, sometimes severely scarred, for life.”

“The reaffirmation of marriage as the gold standard would be a start,” he said. “It has proved to be the most enduring and the children of such relationships perform best. That is simple provable fact … however unpalatable to its detractors.”

“Support for marriage makes pragmatic common sense because it is demonstrably in the public interest and ultimately saves money – like eating healthily,” Justice Coleridge stated.

The judge told the audience at the CARE event that family laws are decades out of date because of “the inactivity of lazy politicians,” observing that current law cannot cope with the decline of marriage, the growth of cohabitation and the spread of divorce.

“The fact that family law has not been subject to high level inquiry since the Royal Commissions in 1950 and subsequent legislation in 1971 is both incredible and concerning … the world we inhabit today is not the same world as we inhabited in 1950,” Sir Paul said.

“Socially, society is unrecognizable. The norms of behavior, the stigmas and the taboos have all changed or evaporated. When the last major reform was introduced there was no such thing as cohabitation outside marriage.”

The current law is “a dead parrot” – it is “no longer fit for purpose,” he said.

Addressing the effect of family breakdown and divorce on children, Sir Paul estimated that 320,000 children enter the family law system each year, implying that more than 3 million children are now trapped in the legal process of their parents’ divorce.

“The scale of the problem is genuinely alarming,” he said. “The incidence of family breakdown is so terribly high now that the way in which family law is shaped and managed has, I believe, a direct and profound impact on the private lives of huge numbers of the population.

“The effect of family breakdown is very far and deeply reaching on the future development of children both emotionally and materially.”

Justice Coleridge called for “a fresh look by an independent commission…[which must be]…completely non-political, independent and authoritative,” and emphasized this call by concluding that “family law does shape society but the law is in need of comprehensive, root and branch overhaul.”

CARE’s Chief Executive, Nola Leach, supported the call for a new commission on family law.

“The call for an Independent Commission which is free from party politics is one which CARE wholeheartedly endorses. Family law impacts the lives of significant numbers of the UK population and is an area which merits serious reflection and action by the Government,” she said.

The full transcript of Mr. Justice Coleridge’s speech at CARE’s “Westminster Conversation” event on 10 May, 2011, is available here.


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