There are fewer marriages and more divorces. Iain Duncan Smith is about to produce some more work on what could be done to keep more marriages alive, fending off divorce, and how people could be helped before entering a marriage to give people more chance of long term happiness. These are good intentions. People with good marriages draw great pleasure, companionship and security from them. The greater permanence which marriage can bring to relationships can help a couple bring up children.
We also need to recognise that marriage law and the nature of the contract was designed for a different social order. Society has changed far more than marriage. Marriage was a contract created in ages when there was men’s work and women’s work, when it was assumed the man would go out to earn the money and the woman would run the home. The law needed to offer security to both sides – the woman needed reassurance the husband would continue to provide the cash for their home, and the man the reassurance that the home would be run. The society accepted these roles, and people knew they had to carry on even with unhappy or bad marriages, because the two in the marriage were literally each other’s other half. It was rare for there to be divorces, and if one was agreed it was important to offer a generous financial settlement to the wife who could not earn her own living in a world hostile to paid female employment.
Today we live in a mutli tasking world. Women go out to work and earn money. Men cook and clean, and there is pressure on them if they don’t. When a marriage breaks up there is need to ensure fair contributions to looking after any children. The way divorce law still sees the end of a marriage as an oppportunity to long and expensive law cases to haggle over the winnings from the combined estate puts energetic and financially prudent people off marriage. The lack of clarity over pre nuptial agreements and their enforcability is one of the issues that needs resolving. In a multitasking world based on equality between the sexes the marriage contract needs to be designed so it ensures proper care and provision for children without allowing adventurers of either sex to demand large portions from people they have married and then fallen out with.