Marriage Foundation, the Family Courts and Domestic Violence
The Telegraph reported today that Senior High Court Judge Sir Paul Coleridge has announced that he is launching a Marriage Foundation along with Baroness Butler-Sloss, the former President of the Family Division; Baroness Deech, a leading family academic and currently chairman of the Bar Standards Board; and Baroness Shackleton, a leading family lawyer. The purpose of the foundation is to lobby for family-friendly policies, hold seminars and commission research into strengthening marriage.
It seems a bit rich that a group of individuals who have made their careers and livelihoods from family breakdown are so concerned about marriage. You might have thought they would have chosen a career move from family law to marriage guidance counseling if they were indeed sincere. It’s easier to imagine that their true motivation might rather be to paint themselves in a good light.
In 2005, Martin Mears, a former president of The Law Society wrote a book (sadly now out of print) titled ‘Institutional Injustice: The Family Courts at work’ in which he describes how judges have ‘developed’ the law to such an extent that if a man goes before a Family Court he can expect to experience institutional injustice. Conduct is taken into account to such a paltry degree that marriage is not a contract in any normal sense of the word. He gives as an example the case of a woman who stabbed her ex-husband in the stomach and was convicted of assault. The judge held that this conduct justified a reduction in maintenance from £195 a month to £50 a month, but the husband still had to pay her maintenance! More recently the case of Miller v Miller took many family law professionals by surprise in its generosity to Mrs Miller and sets a precedent for wives to be treated even more generously than in the past.
About 70% of divorce petitions are issued by women which is not surprising given how easy it is to divorce and how biased the Family Courts are towards women, both in financial matters and in child matters with residence being awarded to mothers in more than 90% of cases. Under the Family Courts as presided over by Sir Paul Coleridge and his colleagues, women can use the marriages as financial stepping stones or simply to finance single parenthood. Conversely men have everything to lose and little to gain.
Male victims of domestic violence who have children face two levels of bias – the bias against being recognised and treated fairly as victims of domestic violence, and the bias against men in the Family Courts. Domestic violence is characterised by abuse of power and control. The bias of the Family Courts gives power and control to those mothers who choose to abuse their partners.
The best thing Sir Paul and his colleagues could do to show the importance of marriage is to use their positions and influence to take the institutional injustice out of the Family Courts and save us the lectures about marriage.