Who knew? The EU destroyed the traditional nuclear family

ring by Eivind Barstad Waaler on Flickr

“Heaven preserve us from pundits and experts” begins Paul Coleridge, in his recent opinion piece in The Telegraph : Brexit is an opportunity to reverse the tragic decline of marriage in Britain.


I’ve got a right strop on.

You’ll be relieved to hear that I am going to spare you my views on Brexit itself, and will focus on the main hypothesis in this piece, which is basically that in Brexit lies the cure to the social malaise that is epitomised by the decline in marriage and the epidemic of single mothers.

For those wondering whether this connection between Brexit and marriage is entirely opportunistic, it is apparently National Marriage Week. So, whilst for the other 51 weeks of the year Brexit is more commonly described as a metaphorical divorce (a metaphor that has endless potential), this week the tables are turned :

So, with that in mind, let me explain why our decision to exit the European Union and revert to full self-government of the UK might revive marriage and enhance family stability.

Oh, go on then. Hit me with your hypothesis…

Apparently it boils down to national psychology. We joined the EU out of weakness not strength. And the EU has caused our “traditional independence and self-confidence [to] wither”.

Also, there’s some statistics and a graph. We are told that before EU 90% of new parents were married, but now we’ve got 2 million single parents – we are presumably intended to infer some sort of causal relationship between our membership and this devastating social decline. I’ve no quibble with those statistics, but I will eat my wig if this trend is not replicated in pretty much any western country you care to name whether inside or outside the EU.

If you are wondering how it is that the EU has had such a corrosive effect on us, its all to do with the EUs “behemothic” ambitious legal nannying tendencies. Remember that stoned, satiated look when a baby has just drained the last dregs out of a massive feed? That’s how I imagine poor Britannia, bloated and unable to do anything for herself, swaddled in EU regulations (sorry my metaphor key got stuck down).

Anyway, this particular passage is just my bestie favourite in the whole piece :

And this “State will provide” attitude infected our national domestic life too. The generous welfare system did nothing to discourage family breakdown and it became economically possible for a woman to support children without financial support from herself or a husband. More and more items of our household expenditure were picked up by the State. Notions of individual family self-reliance faded.

Dammit, how I *wish* we could go back to those good ol’ times when it was economically impossible for a woman to support children without financial support (and permission) from her husband. If only it weren’t for women’s pesky notions of individual self-reliance we could go back to those happy days where people were forced to stay in unhealthy and abusive relationships that damaged themselves and their children.

I’ll confess that I’m struggling here to reconcile Coleridge’s enthusiasm for our national spirit of independence with his apparent wistful regret about the development of women’s independence. I don’t think he’s noticed the massive contradiction at the heart of his article. Do you think this might be the point where I’m supposed to suggest Sir Paul should “check his privilege”?

It’s pretty clear from Coleridge’s description here that his vision is of a vast population of single mothers (not fathers) all happily claiming benefits and lounging on sofas. Look at the passage above – it’s not men who unfortunately also become economically able to leave, thereby wrecking society with their selfishness and the emergence of “individual self-confidence” to leave abusive relationships. It’s just women. In this dystopian landscape there are no self-reliant working women or feckless fathers, and probably no benefit dads with care. It’s just us girls spoiling things by not letting our husbands provide and be independent for us.

Quite apart from my feminist rage, there is another huge non-sequitur in Coleridge’s argument. The capacity of a parent or family to be independent (or not) is nothing to do with marital status. It is to do with wealth, and to do with the economic on-costs of relationship breakdown (whether married or cohabiting) – two households cost more to run than one. Marriages break down too.

Coleridge neglects half of the equation. It is basic logic that for every single mum there is a single dad somewhere. And when I last checked, being unmarried or separated did not relieve the absent parent of his (or her) obligation in law and conscience to maintain a child where that parent is financially able. Much (though not all) benefit dependence is a function of the failure of an absent parent to honour that duty (sometimes wilfully but sometimes because it genuinely cannot be done). A failure to maintain is something that in my experience both formerly married and former cohabitants are equally likely to be guilty of (indeed many with assets and a decent income may resist marriage precisely to ensure their poor partner never acquires any marital rights).

I’ll skip over the usual Marriage Foundation marriage propaganda about how children of marrieds do better blah blah blah (completely unconnected to the fact that marrieds tend to be better off, and entirely down to the magical magickness of marriage as a thing).


Coleridge finishes with this :

Of course, no one could sensibly suggest that Brexit is a magic bullet for the restoration of the stable married family. 

(says the man who has just written an article pretty much saying that exact thing).

I prefer to switch that around and say that no one could sensibly suggest that marriage is a magic bullet for our social problems. And my humble prediction is that the only impact Brexit will have on marriage rates is probably those poor families including one parent is an EU citizen from another member state who are desperately trying to work out how to secure their right to remain together with their family post Brexit.


Feature pic courtesy of Eivind Barstad Waaler on Flickr – thanks!

Splitting the assets

I had a little trip to the smelly old smoke yesterday to record a programme for BBC Radio 4. The programme is called Splitting the Assets and is airing on Radio 4 at 8pm on 3 Feb (repeating on the Sat night too I think). It involved yours truly, Sir Paul Coleridge (retired HCJ, Marriage Foundation etc), Nicola Mattheson-Durrant (Professional McKenzie Friend) and Marc Mason from the University of Westminster discussing the experiences of litigants in person dealing with financial remedy cases in the family court. The programme is structured around clips of interviews with litigants in person telling how it was for them (generally not great). There was lots more I’d like to have said but I think it will be an interesting, if depressing, listen. I don’t know if the degree of adaptation that has gone on in terms of judge’s handling of cases and changes in approach to litigants in person will really come across – there are genuine horror stories, and going to court is horrid and stressful whether you are represented or not, and whether your judge is friendly and efficient or not (my experience is mostly they are but there are of course exceptions) – but I hope that the programme will not make litigants even more anxious. There are resources out there to help you, whether you have a lawyer, a bit of advice here and there, or whether you go it alone, perhaps with the support of a friend or by paying for a McKenzie friend. A reminder that resources are out there can be found here : www.familycourtinfo.org.uk which contains both links local to the Bristol area and nationally applicable resources and information.

You can read more about the programme on the BBC website here.

Your Horrorscope for 2014

Welcome to your annual horoscope by Famileo, and here are my predictions for what 2014 has in store for us in family law. (Alright, alright – it’s not quite as bad as a review of 2013 or a top ten – but in fact it is a useful if rather frightening exercise.) 2014 is gonna be a year and a half. Deep breath folks, Libra is in decline and there will be a full moon rising for the entire year, with Munby ruling. By the end of it we will all be howling :

pic thanks d boyarrin on flickr

pic thanks to d boyarrin on flickr

  • For us 2014 is the year of the Single Family Court, currently forecast for April, but possibly not until later in 2014. Old divisions will disappear as the fire and water signs merge, and as the gemini triplets rise there will be many surprises in store for all of us.
  • Your friends will tell you 26 weeks will become law in April, but you would be wise not to listen to them – Aquarius is rising and dates are fluid and you may find that the Public Law Pilot Scheme will be revised and extended beyond its current scheduled end date of 31 March.
  • The planets are aligning so that the Children and Families Bill will be passed into law in around February. The provisions of the Act relating to public and private law family proceedings will be brought into force in 2014, my prediction is not until the latter part of the year.
  • Everybody will be disappointed and confused with and irritated by the private law reforms by way of amendments of part 1 Children Act 1989. Child arrangements orders will confuse litigants in person (and the rest of us).
  • There will be more clamour for transparency in the shape of publication of anonymised judgments, and no easy mechanism for achieving it at circuit and district judge level. There will be practice directions before the spring equinox.
  • More Court of Protection judgments will be published.
  • There will be continued sketchy reporting of cases in the press either because of the absence of publicly available factual information or in spite of it. But be patient, all will become clear if you bide your time and trust in Bailli.
  • You dream of holidays on remote sandy beaches, but the stars do not hold that in store for you this year. There will be an array of new Practice Directions to read, including on transparency and allocation of proceedings within the SFC, the allocation and hearing of appeals from the SFC and the operation of the new court it generally. If you do make it on holiday to a rainy campsite in Wales you will have to take reading with you, and will be fined half your annual income by the Information Commissioner if it is stolen or lost.
  • You long for the glamour of a reported judgment with your name on it. But be careful what you wish for. There will be a rash of unsuccessful appeals predicated on something being “non-BS-Compliant” and the Court of Appeal will say “No no no. That’s not what we meant at ALL. PLEASE don’t keep appealing perfectly good judgments”. Only they will say so at more length.
  • Everyone will want a piece of you. They will expect you to do more for less and quicker. You must know when to take a break if you are to survive this year of turmoil.
  • The Cobb J Child Arrangements Programme will be largely adopted and will probably be implemented in the summer. The concerns and questions raised in that report will go unanswered and unheeded, but as the moon enters scorpio the sting in the tail will be revealed.
  • Money will be tight for you this year. Be careful – there will be costs orders against the late and the thoughtless.
  • Newspapers will continue to refer to “custody battles” and “contact orders”.
  • Romance is not on the cards for you this year, although you may hear more from the Marriage Foundation.
  • Mostyn J will become the Bete Noir of the Mail and Telegraph.
  • It is  the year of the tiger. The criminal bar will become increasingly militant.
  • A few chambers will close. Others will merge.
  • Quite a lot of solicitors firms will close or merge.
  • Be watchful. Some new business models you haven’t thunk of yet will emerge and you will kick yourself.
  • Be wise. The bar will continue to grapple ham-fistedly with public access.
  • Be kind. The bar pro bono unit will be swamped (Nov 13 90% up on Nov 12).
  • Private law applications will start to rise again and chaos will rein.
  • There will be more sabre-rattling about the ECHR.
  • As Uranus rises and fees sink there may be problems securing experts to report in cases when cases funded through post-Dec 2013 legal aid certificates come through the system.
  • The average duration for care cases will continue to decrease, but will not quite reach 26 weeks by the year end.
  • There will be an appeal towards the end of the year relating to the interpretation of the new provisions in the Children and Families Bill regarding judicial scrutiny of the contents of care plans.
  • There will be not more than 20 exceptional case determinations made under s10 LASPO Act in the whole year for all areas of law.
  • I see a tall dark man. No wait. That’s Mr Pink Tape with a cup of tea.
  • There will be so much going on and so many people in a bit of a spin about it that that wheels will come off something somewhere. The tealeaves are not very clear though, and I can’t tell which wheels or how big the car crash will be. But *swirls cup* I’m definitely getting shambles.
  • According to my chart I will continue to be mardy, ornery and mouthy. As all good Leos are.

I can also exclusively reveal the personalised horoscope for the President, created by a reading of his charts, his palm, his judgments and his transparent crystal ball: It can be done, it must be done it will be done. Bet he’s a Leo too*.

Post script. In a desperate search for inspiration** for this blog post I have selflessly trawled a number of horoscope websites. I could have lifted almost every word of every horoscope I read for some profound but non-specific phrase of apparent significance for all of us. But that seemed to be a bit of a cheat. And we astrologists don’t cheat. So these babies are all my own writing readings (However, if anything is wrong I blame the constellations). Plus, the more I read the more at risk I am of believing this nonsense because, whilst rational me knows it is mere coincidence I am a dead ringer for your standard description of my star sign, Leo. So I have had to ban myself from astrology websites for fear of developing a terribly stupid addiction.

* OMG According to Wikipedia Munby only IS A LEO!! Have I just stumbled upon proof that astrology is valid?? (Incidentally, according to Russell Grant his Chinese sign is a Rat – rats do not have such negative connotations in eastern culture as here incidentally).

** by which I mean stock phrases and linguistic tics that I can rip off and caricature.