It is encouraging to read of Sir Paul Coleridge’s attempts to tackle the crisis in family breakdown by exploring its causes. The only question is why has it taken so long for we in the legal profession to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century?
During a 50-year career in family law, it was obvious by the 1980s that lawyers were driving a coach and horses through the grounds for divorce and there were some farcical attempts by the courts to block parties from achieving their freedom where the marriage had broken down.
Sadly, this is still happening. Again, where equality of the sexes had long been established, the courts still clung to the principle of the wife’s right to lifelong maintenance – a complete travesty and entirely out of step with the public mood.
Even more unjust (bearing in mind the number of common law relationships) has been the refusal to allow partners to enjoy at least a portion of the rights available to parties in a marriage.
I remember a client coming to me following the breakdown of a 20-year relationship and having to advise her that she had no right other than child maintenance. Both parties had been married before, so were reluctant to chance marriage a second time after an unhappy first.
You may say, of course, that they took their chance, but they had committed to a partnership under which two children had been born and who could say what the future might bring?
Let us clear the clutter of the past away and concentrate, as Sir Paul is so valiantly doing, on the causes of breakdown.
John Greenwood, retired family lawyer and recorder, Chippenham, Wilts