Celebrating fifty years of freedom in relationships


I’ve not really been following it, but this week the BBC Breakfast programme has been running a series of pieces celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album (for myself I can still remember when my older sister brought the album home, how different it was from what had gone before, and how we quickly grew to love it). On Tuesday I caught part of a video in which Breakfast was considering the track When I’m Sixty-Four, interviewing people of that age and discussing how life had changed over that half-century.

One particular section of that video grabbed my attention. They were talking to an older couple, who had recently married, both having been married previously. They spoke about how this had resulted in the couple having a ‘blended’ family, rather than the ‘traditional’ family that had been predominant in 1967, whereby every generation was descended from both parents, i.e. whole-blood, rather than half-blood. It was explained that this was of course the result of it now being far easier to divorce, and the couple themselves lamented that back in 1967 many couples were forced to endure unhappy relationships.

It is hardly a profound point, but it struck me then that it is all about freedom. The law shouldn’t be used to control the way people lead their lives, save in the most basic sense of not adversely affecting anyone else. In particular, what relationships people choose to enter into or leave should be a matter for them to decide, not the state. Just because a certain relationship type is favoured by those in power should not entitle them to impose their views upon the rest of the population, even if that relationship type is proven to have benefits for society.

But what about the children? The proponents of marriage point out that children fare better if their parents stay together, and parents who are married are more likely to stay together. Doesn’t that make a good argument for the state encouraging marriage? Well, no. Even if those things are true, if a relationship has broken down then the welfare of the children is going to be best served by the parents separating, preferably amicably, irrespective of whether or not they were married. The existence of a marriage certificate changes nothing: if a relationship is going to last, it’s going to last; if a relationship is going to break down, it’s going to break down. The important point is that the parents put the children first, whether they are married or not, and whether their relationship has broken down or not.

We like to think that in this country we live in a free society, but fifty years ago that certainly was not the case. And it remains not the case to a degree while we still have a divorce law that can force couples to remain tied to one another despite the fact that their marriage has clearly irretrievably broken down. Great strides were made by the reformers of the 1960s, but their work has not yet been completed.

Even if the proponents for marriage were right (and they still persist with their arguments), the price of their pro-marriage policies would be far too high. Any sort of return to the bad old days of the 1960s and before would involve the curtailing of basic freedoms in the way people choose to live their lives: to marry, or not to marry, to divorce, or not to divorce. I doubt that society generally would be prepared to give up those freedoms.

Yes, freedom has brought about changes, but we must move on from the idea that all those changes are bad. Yes, there may be far more people who have divorced, but for most of them that has made them more happy, not less. Yes, the blended family may appear strange if looked at from the eyes of someone living in 1967, but it is absurd to say that it is bad. It is just different, that is all.

And even where the changes are bad, we must come up with ways to deal with them, rather than just cry out for the past. Yes, there are now more children from ‘broken homes’ than there were, but that does not have to mean that they are disadvantaged, and to suggest that it does is to perpetuate the disadvantage.

When Paul McCartney sang in 1967 that it’s Getting Better he was quite right. Things did get better for everyone, and I for one celebrate the fact that we all enjoy greater freedom than we did back then.

Image by Richardjo53 via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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JamesB - April 10, 2017 at 1:11pm

Its a fine decision, but on balanced, if forced to agree or disagree, I think I disagree and think would be better off banning divorce where children are involved. A walk around the park and town yesterday saw far too many mentally ill people talking to themselves. I can’t help but think that was less in the pre divorce era and that divorce has been a large contributing factor to these people, probably most of whom come from broken families and relationships.

One person does not like to bring up children who are not their own. E.g. wicked step mother, step father, ‘so what’ you say – rather glibly – above (“well, no”?) with regards to the children not having a decent place in your blended utopia. That is wrong to disregard children (and people) like that.

JamesB - April 10, 2017 at 1:19pm

Perhaps if you had experienced the break up of your parents marriage as a child (as I have) you would have a clue what you were talking about. You plainly have not. It tears the children apart. I have so much devastation caused by your progressive family law I think you should be a bit more sensitive with the so what, well no comments, where so many peoples lives have been sacrificed on that alter of unsubstantial freedom without responsibility to bring up the children well.

Stitchedup - April 12, 2017 at 9:12am

Well said James.

JamesB - April 12, 2017 at 10:39am

Thanks. I mean I have seen so many people really struggle with it and it ruin them, usually men, my father and others’ fathers also. Also a female friend of mine who died a couple of years ago. The ‘it’s probably for the best’ comments from lawyers and others who don’t really appreciate the devastation it can and does cause as they don’t live in a world where there is not enough money to have two households where there was one is taking the mick. It is not the cakewalk easy bed of roses option he portrays it as. Then again I suppose as a divorce lawyer he is in the market of selling divorce. I rather think the marriage foundation need to do more to counter such self indulgent, hollow arguments. Starting with pushing for legal reform which is preventing people marrying (because it is too risky financially). They are too quiet on that.

JamesB - April 12, 2017 at 10:47am

Indeed, I have not heard the Marriage Foundation say anything about changing the England and Wales family law at all. That undermines their position and authority as it is the main reason stopping people marrying and they say they are trying to promote that and families and responsibility. Rather than blackmailing people to stay in loveless marriages as the threat of financial devastation on divorce is too great, which seems to be their and the Government’s approach. Seems like a hollow approach being taken and I (perhaps as a liberal) disagree with it, would prefer prenups and postnups instead. Their silence on that is deafening, it is unacceptable and unsustainable to sacrifice marriage on the principle of feminism, which is what is happening with marriage numbers and birth rates low and immigration and alternative family law outside the law, like Sharia and Deth Bin etc being taken instead, we need better government than hollow lawyers and politicians words saying its ok when it so plainly is not.

JamesB - April 12, 2017 at 11:45am

By death of marriage, I mean of a western type where people are happy. Not (for example) the Sharia type where the woman is more unhappy as they make the sacrifices, which is where we are headed. Or the Poles and Romanians etc. who just do their own Catholic thing and don’t touch the courts. or the Jewish type etc it is a complex point which I hope I have clarified here. I want more happiness in marriage and court activity, rather than people avoiding it. I don’t mind more divorce as long as there are more marriages and people are ok with the settlements. Like you stitchedup and so many others my settlement was a con. It is seen as a con by so many who avoid it and that needs addressing and resolving through a Scottish type system please.

JamesB - April 11, 2017 at 1:19am

I have worked out your reasons for supporting the existing status quo, even though it is obviously failing, e.g. declining birthrate, marriage rate, increase in people living by themselves, suicidal fathers, unpopular political parties, disenfranchised anxious people, etc.

The reason is as you have retired you no longer have an interest in generating income through something workable for practising lawyers and prefer to generate traffic on here by acting as a Devil’s advocate instead. With a turn of phase like that perhaps I have changed my mind and believe I can write after all.

JamesB - April 10, 2017 at 1:24pm

Yes, I have sympathy for the progress. Ideally no divorce before children are three and family centres to help bring up children including children who’s parents are not living together.

JamesB - April 10, 2017 at 1:35pm

Yes, it is possible for children of divorced parents to thrive. But as I meant to say before I have seen some really struggle and we need to give those children help and if we can do that I support the right of people to leave relationships, I don’t really believe in banning divorce, but think make it as ok for the children as possible without disregarding them. Stitching up Dad is not good for the children either that’s a cop out solution to a difficult issue. We fundamentally agree but financing two households where there was once one can be a very difficult issue, often impossible to resolve. Lawyers from wealthy backgrounds often do not fully appreciate that fully as I think you do not. I have seen so many families where one person (usually the father and the children) pays so much for the mothers freedom, it is possible and should be all concerned get to be ok.

JamesB - April 10, 2017 at 1:41pm

Laywers often say, offer more, like money grows on trees, its one of the issues I have with them, perhaps the main one, they experience money differently from their poor clients. Richer people have less difficulty and have a better time with divorce. Perhaps its for the rich. Which is why so many poorer people cant afford to marry now. Its for them I write, for their right to marry and divorce, them who you disregard as a price worth paying for the good law as you see it. Like Brexit, I put it to you that you need to carry those people with your Liberal Educated Metropolitan Elite laws as without them supporting you end up with nothing and no society.

JamesB - April 10, 2017 at 2:36pm

Speaking as someone who parents split when I was a child and who is divorced with children, trying to bring them up best I can and see them and struggling to maintain a relationship with them (with an unenforceable contact order), I think the article was self indulgent and sanctimonious in its style, which promotes divorce. Not a surprise for a lawyer to be promoting divorce.

I do agree the old laws were outdated but things are not a bed of roses and need improving now too. Not even sure it is an improvement. We probably share the same objectives, but there is a saying about the road to hell being paved with good intentions.

Given the choice between a woman trapped in an abusive marriage and a acrimonious divorce and not enough marriage to go round, it is a tight choice though and I’d probably go with the former. Not much of a choice though, realistic though and lawyers do assume too much money and choices sometimes. The choices of many are more like what I have said than what he has said. Except now they do a third option, kick out man, get his money and the states money, I suggest that is not as good as option one either. Better for me option four, staying together and sorting out the temper, or 4. splitting with ready access to a family centre and support for children. Used to read a lot about the police and brothers and sisters ‘sorting out’ abusive men. Abuse can be from women and men also.

JamesB - April 10, 2017 at 2:37pm

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions is a proverb or aphorism. An alternative form is “Hell is full of good meanings, but Heaven is full of good works”.

JamesB - April 10, 2017 at 3:07pm

You do the baiting John. I respond. Silly game. Like lawyers winding people up in court, seen it many times. Not much of a game, a zero sum game, playing with people like that. I write because it is an important subject and needs settling down with better laws. The main issues being the lack of good outcomes in limited money cases, the legal expense, the legal process, and the lack of support. I put it to you that it is a legal issue if people can’t afford marriage also which is why lawyers should be concerned also rather than fighting over a declining pot. Of course lawyers are going to be pro divorce as there is money in it for them.

JamesB - April 10, 2017 at 3:14pm

For those who don’t know what a zero sum game is, it is one where you can only win by not playing.

JamesB - April 10, 2017 at 3:34pm

Is divorce a zero sum game? Unfortunately too many times (probably the majority of the time) yes it is. One winner only, usually kids and other parent lose. Needs to be a non zero sum game more often else less people marry, to avoid divorce, and I think people are better when they get together rather than live as individuals.

JamesB - April 10, 2017 at 3:37pm

Pre and post nups on finances and contact and jurisdiction of the court and all things would help and be a good starting point for a change and step in the right direction away from the bad mess currently in place which John tries unsuccessfully to support and promote here and other places. Smells a bit that. Pushing a bad line that (that family law is ok in England and Wales, it is not currently and needs to change).

JamesB - April 11, 2017 at 1:24am

That was at you John Bolch. Not Marilyn, who I greatly respect and admire.

JamesB - April 11, 2017 at 5:32pm

To put it as a Beatles analogy for you. You saying that is like John Lennon singing Imagine there’s no possessions, people living life in peace, on a big F off white piano bigger than the houses most of the world have to live in! Yes, that is the video, look it up on you tube. You are being hypocritical as he was. There, how’d you like them apples?!

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