Sometimes Sir Paul Coleridge must think he is a lone voice crying in the wilderness, hoping to be heard but so far studiously ignored.
I refer to the ongoing debate over marriage, partnership, divorce and Gomorrah, which have been bedeviling the legal profession and the law makers almost since Adam and Eve. An attempt at meaningful reform was made in 1973, which was the enactment of the Matrimonial Causes Act, and its intention to introduce the ‘no fault’ divorce. This was a step in the right direction, but it quickly turned out to be the curate’s egg – only good in parts.
The good part was removing conduct from the divorce equation unless there were exceptional circumstances. The bad part remains the requirement that one of the divorcing parties must petition for divorce, and support it with acceptable grounds. These are desertion, separation and that old favourite, adultery. The problem arose when none of those grounds was applicable. The unhappy couple had grown apart and wanted a fresh start. But to comply with the law, the petitioner had to plead something, and that often made a difficult and emotional situation worse, especially if the kids found out, and telling them it was all a charade doesn’t always cut the mustard.
Sir Paul Coleridge is a retired family court judge with clout, an earnestness of manner and an abundance of common sense, and he has been pleading for the reform of the divorce laws for years. He argues that if after mediation the unhappy couple are still determined to call it a day, let them do so, and valuable court time can be better spent on the division of the matrimonial assets (after the deduction of legal expenses of course).
You will remember the recent and well publicised case of the couple where the wife was bored rigid in a loveless marriage, but that isn’t a ground for divorce, and the husband seemed more than content with his lot. For all I know, they could be still in the loveless marriage and still ignoring each other.
Let me declare no interest whatsoever in civil partnerships, same sex or otherwise. Call me narrow minded and out of touch if you will, but I believe in the sanctity of marriage between man and wife, and I believe in children being baptised with Christian names and not names like Peach Melba or Paddington Bear or Spanky Botty. But like Paul Coleridge, I may be a voice crying in the wilderness. But back to the plot.
In 2004, Parliament enacted the Civil Partnership Act, thereby giving its blessing to same sex unions, with all the rights and obligations bestowed on heterosexual couples. First in the queue was the Portly Performer and his totally forgettable ‘other half’, and where he led, others swiftly followed. Sadly however, heterosexual partners were left out in the cold to fend for themselves.
But I bring glad tidings of comfort and joy. A private members’ bill going through the Commons will give to heterosexual couples the same rights as same sex couples. At last common sense and decency will prevail, assuming of course that the Bill will become law. If it does, it will remove the absurdity of partnership rights, which as things stand, do not exist, so where partners split up, they will have the same rights as married or single sex couples when it comes to matrimonial assets, instead, as now, it’s a lottery and down to a judge to determine what the parting couple intended in the absence of a written agreement when they got together.
Exciting or what?!?