The future of marriage

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.


  1. Mike Stallard
    July 13, 2009

    I feel very strongly about this.
    OK, from the adult point of view, your views make perfect sense. Two ferrets in a sack fighting for their rights.
    Now let’s look at it from the point of view of the children.
    I know a psychiatrist consultant who met an important politician at a dinner. When they found out that they were both the children of divorced parents, they both agreed, these eminent people, that it was by far the worst thing that had ever happened to them. And it still hurt.
    Ask any teacher or children’s worker about children of divorced parents. Then stand back.
    Everyone knows this.
    If you cannot trust your own Mum and Dad, then who can you trust?

  2. Colin D.
    July 13, 2009

    All the statistics show that children do better if parents stay together. Marriage is still the best formula for bringing up children. Therefore, Society should encourage what is demonstrably best for children and this requires the (Conservative) government to encourage marriage through the tax system.
    This should not be interpreted as an assault on unmarried people bringing up children. However, everyone needs to take note of the statistics and acknowledge a general approach that is good for the future of society whilst freely admitting that many can still make a success of their children other than by marriage.

    1. Mike Stallard
      July 13, 2009

      About your second paragraph: I wonder whether such an “assault” isn’t rather a good idea.
      If a decent marriage tax allowance was given to people who had taken the trouble to register their marriage/partnership/recent liaison with the government (in a Registry Office), then, perhaps, Jeremy Kyle (one of my favourite programmes) might lose a lot of customers and there would be less men used as sperm donors instead of fathers?

  3. Alan Phillips
    July 13, 2009

    I believe that there should be the opportunity for the main breadwinner to have the option to take the Tax Allowence if the other wants to stay at home or has a need to do so.

    If people have jobs that in the old days were to be paying “pin money” it might free up posts to those looking for work. A double reward policy in my view, maintaining a stay at home value for many part-time working mothers and reducing the dole queue. What do you think John.

    1. Elboe Mac
      July 14, 2009

      The market for labour does not work like that. There is no fixed amount of work to be shared. The view of “freeing-up” posts leads to the policy implemented by the French Socialists of the 35-hour week.

  4. no one
    July 13, 2009

    i have indeed seen some male friends ruined by divorce, divorce which was brought about by their wifes poor behaviour

    husband bails out insolvent wife several times

    wife goes astray asks for divorce

    husband trys to be amicable and gives 50% of everything to wife, wife sells it, in later case court gives wife 50% of whats left, leaving husband with 25% of what he worked for! and then constant drip drip drip

    not fair at all

    in my case I consider the state forced me to get married, my wife is foreign, i love her to bits, i want to spend my life with her, but if she were a brit i doubt we would have bothered to get married, we had to marry or we wouldnt be allowed to live in the same country, these stupid rules need changing too, a loving life long relationship should be enough for a genuine couple to get a visa

  5. david
    July 13, 2009

    So where’s your first wife John? Like to tell us about your own marital record.

    reply: I was only married once.

  6. RobertD
    July 13, 2009

    The arrangements that adults as adults want to make is for them to decide, and the law should support whatever agreement they make between themselves, subject only to reasonable protections against coercion.

    However children are another matter altogether. There is a need for parenting contract that binds both parties to the financial and practical support of any child that they have. A contract that is legally enforceable until the child beocmes an independent adult. Ideally they should enter into it before a child is conceived, but it should be required once an established pregnancy is confirmed. It needs to cover the sharing of financial and practical support, provision of a home, education, and parental access both when the couple are living together and in the event of any split. There should be scope to accomodate personal needs agreed by the couple, but a minimum standard for the protection of the child fixed in law. The legal standard should promote cooperative and shared parenting and penalise neglect of agreed responsibilities. Most importantly it will provide clarity as to consequences and immediate action against any parent neglecting their child without need for extensive legal wrangling.

    Ideally this will be expressed in a traditional marriage plus a pre-nup, but provide a legal backstop for those who do not want, or can’t be bothered, with traditional arrangements.

  7. figurewizard
    July 13, 2009

    The underlying problem is that divorce has become an industry for an entire class of lawyers, who often enjoy rewards equivalent to those of senior bankers. There is therefore an incentive to foster conflict between the parties where it may very well have been avoided. Any change in legislation would have to include changing this if it is to result in in a fairer dissolution of the marriage without, at the same time seeing a substantial part of the funds to be distributed ending up in the pockets of their legal representatives.

    1. alan jutson
      July 13, 2009

      Agreed totally.

      Never been divorced myself, hope it never happens, but seen friends who have, and the problem usually starts as soon as lawyers get involved.

      The only winners are the lawyers, they know how much is in the combined financial pot, and appear to string things out to maximise fees.

      1. Adrian Peirson
        July 13, 2009

        I agree with that too, if divorces were based on equality, like it is supposed to then both parents would have shared residence, there would be no squabling over children nor money.
        But of course there is no money for Lawyers in amicable settlements.

  8. Paul
    July 13, 2009

    The argument raised by IDS is to enact legislation to enforce a “cooling off period” before allowing divorce.

    The commentators on here have raised the 3 issues normally associated with divorce.

    Tax incentives for married couples
    Dividing assets on divorce
    Effect on the children

    Undoubtably divorce negatively effects the children

    Why would a few pounds extra either encourage people to get or stay married and if it did is that a good reason ?

    The Germans I believe have a pre set tarrif on asset distribution, this an the acceptance in law of pre nuptual agreements are paramount.

    Now back to IDS

    I was married for 28 years before my divorce…. a cooling off period?????? Sorry the whole idea is interfering nonsense.

    The reason that our divorce rate is so high is that life expectancy has risen hugely, women now are able to provide financially for themselves and no longer have to rely on a partner.

    What we actually need is to try to make the divorce process less antagonistic and confrontational ( ie there shouldn’t be a lawyer anywhere in the process) in that way we can seek to minimise the hurt caused to the children ( whose interests should be paramount)

    My ex wife and I agreed our financial settlement ourselves, we agreed on the child care needs of our youngest son and a shared custody scheme based on the needs and wants of our son. We then went together to a lawyer and had the whole thing drawn up in legaleze ( the lawyer was aghast and said we couldn’t both be represented by the same lawyer! Yes we can and were.

    In most cases one partner is more hurt by the process than the other, using a confrontational legal system is what causes most of the damage.

    1. Ruth
      July 13, 2009

      I agree. A tax allowance is irrelevant, and the 3 month cooling off is pointless – people proceeding to divorce have mostly thought long and hard about it before they get to that point, as it is costly and unpleasant.

      I recall some years ago talking to a muslim friend who had been divorced islamically, the couple were simply incompatible and it was an amicable breakup. She was appalled that the legal divorce required one of them to blame the other, or else the process would take much longer. Divorce is unpleasant, but what makes it worse for the children is the legal argument and the sheer length of the process.

      I’m ashamed at the behaviour some women display in the divorce process, shamelessly sponging off their former husband instead of going out to work and getting on with their lives. The law acts as a supreme disincentive for people to get married. Major reform is required.

      As for encouraging marriage, we need a culture change in society. I don’t think “easy” divorce encourages people to break up (it isn’t easy). When divorce was hard or impossible to get, people stayed together because they had to and were miserable as a result. Sometimes the misery was overcome and the marriages became successful, sometimes they spent a lifetime being miserable, some older people still are miserable together.

      We no longer tolerate having a miserable life, but we haven’t yet adapted to the fact that when we choose a partner we are committing to many decades of married life and it is no longer an economical arrangement but a partnership of equals.

      In the Victorian period I think the average marriage lasted 7 years, so the idea of a lifelong commitment was an aspiration – now it’s a reality. Divorce is going to be with us for a very long time, and it’s time we adopted a more grown-up approach to it.

  9. Thomas Widmann
    July 13, 2009

    It seems to me that many people (including the media and many politicians) are assuming it’s really easy to get a divorce today.
    However, that’s only true if you have enough money to go to court or if both sides agree to get it over with.
    In other cases, a divorce can drag out for years, even if one of the sides has already started up a new family with a new partner.
    My wife has written about this on her blog here:

  10. Lola
    July 13, 2009

    Careful Mr Redwood, social history does not at all support your separate roles view. It was (is?) absolutey not the case that men went out and won bread and women stayed in the home and kept it. This may have been true of small cadres of relatively wealthly people but right up to post WW2 in most households both parties worked, probably nearly full time. There was small time between WW1 and WW2 when proportionately more families fitted your model. But overall it has never been the general case and never will be.

    My view is that marriage, the union before God and man of a man and a woman in a state of matrimony for the support of each other and the procreation of children, is a common theme in all the great religions. The whole world in one way or another recognised the family as the basic unit of a sound civil society. This family unit also includes the extended family of grandparents and uncles and aunts and all the rest of it. (Boy, like Bertie Wooster have I got Aunts).

    It is not that marriage is out of date or does not fit modern society. It is that modern fads like multiculturalism and state indulgence of selfish behaviour has undermined its authority. The cure for the divorce problem is the re-inforcement of the superiority of marriage as the best institution from which to build society.

    The extended family then enables the wife to have children and return to work. What has happened is that the state has sought to usurp the role of the extended family in order to deepen its own franchise. All the law and procedures exist to ensure that in the event of a failure of a marriage the welfare of any children are prioritised. At the same time many divorces are only enabled by massive transfer payments from the rest of us. The costs fall on the taxpayer.

    So how do you encourage strong marriages? Well, you need children to grow up in one to see how it works. They will then, mostly, seek to emulate their parents example and marry for the ‘right’ reasons. In other words it’s a circular argument. Good marriages encourages the children of them to have good marriages and so on.

    I flatly do not agree with anything that in any way dilutes or weakens the sanctity and strength of the marriage contract. Marraige is a very serious business and should not be entered into at all lightly. Marriage is not the ceremony. It’s not the reception. It’s not the dress and the show. Marriage is the vows and the witnesses, both God and man.

    For the avoidance of doubt I have been married for 31 years. And I am not in anyway a religious man.

    1. alan jutson
      July 13, 2009


      Agree with most of your points.

      The problem we seem to have (at least in the UK), is that now we have the poorer role models out breeding the better ones.

      The other problem is that the poorer role models usually (not always) need state benefits to survive.

      Good role models are becoming fewer and fewer, and also end up paying twice, once for their own children, and again for the others by others.

      The system needs to change so that positive parenting by two people, once again becomes the norm.

  11. Neil Craig
    July 13, 2009

    The basic purpose of marriage is to provide a secure way of bringing up children. Everything else is just comfort. Society should thus encourgae it since without children growing into capable adults society has no future.

    I also agree about it being important that there be clarity about whether agreements can be torn up at will. Contracts should be more valuable than the paper they are written on.

    I am therefore quite disconcerted to see that on Sunday the NOTW, whose former editor is Cameron’s spin doctor, reported the Tories were dropping their plans for the married couple tax allowance as well as for the inheritance tax cut. I hope that Conservative party policy is not made in a newspaper & that the party generally will speak out in favour of current official policy. To get the economy growing we ned to cut government spending, which in total has a net hegative economic vlaue, to close to what we raise, not to raise more taxes to cover government spending.

  12. James Barlow
    July 13, 2009

    Good intentions, eh?

    We all know which road is paved with those.

  13. Javelin
    July 13, 2009

    You’re swimming against a very strong tide here. Marriage is not dead yet – but it’s got a fatal disease and nobody wants to cure it.

    Marriage is disapearing at a linear rate, by 2030 nobody will be getting married. The reason is quite simple – men tell their son’s DO NOT GET MARRIED. I working in an investment bank and the culture is very much against marriage. No man on the trading floor has got married in the recent past that I know of.

    The introduction of pre-nups (all of a sudden) is so the family lawyers can save their own jobs. They figure it’s more profitable to get everybody to sign a pre-nup now than to get divorcees to pay for a divorce.

    Marriage is first and for most a FINANCIAL CONTRACT. It was designed for days to protect women could not work. Today women can work – but today it traps women into not WANTING to work.

    Nobody ever gets “best advice” before getting married. People do it when they are in love. The marriage contract keeps changing – every month a new court case shifts the goal posts, or the judges are given advice from head office how to interpret cases. Psychologists can predict most marriages that will fail – but human rights stop them giving advice – and who would listen anyway.

    If you look at Scandinavia – where in my opinion they have the balance much better – the women are brought up to be independent. When there is a divorce the assets are split down the middle and the men and women are assumed to take a 50:50 carers role. The children spend a week at their mothers then a week at their fathers. Society is much more tolerant and helps parents.

    In this country, IN GENERAL, women get the the benefits from having the children. They get tax credits, after working part time 16 hours a week, and child maintenance. This gives them enough to get by on – just. It means men who earn more money get the kids more because they pay the wife enough to get by on. It means men who do not earn a lot don’t see their kids because the women keep the kids as much as they can to get money from the men. It means women become dependent on the state on tax credits. It means women don’t build up a career. It also means that it’s very difficult to change the law to be equal to both parents without damaging existing set-ups because women are deep in the benefit trap.

    In this country, IN GENERAL, the more a man works after marriage the more the wife gets. Most women going through the courts apply for spousal maintanence – this is basically a payment from the father to the mother to maintain a minimum standard – but it acts as a benefit that stops the mother from working to get a proper job. Women become financially trapped, don’t work and end up with no pension that the tax payers have to pay.

    Marriage is bigger than divorce. It’s a society thing. Marriage supresses women’s careers and rips off men for working hard.

    The real solution to marriage is to make it more transparent – like most things on this website (including MP’s expenses, quangos and banks books) where there is darkness their are problems.

    People before they get married need to be told what happens when they exercise the exit clause. Perhaps less people will get married, and people will think harder about it first. The answer is NOT to incentivise marriage with tax breaks – that is evil. The answer is not to encourage sex, affairs and hedonistic lifestyles it is to educate people about love, responsiblity and happiness.

  14. Stuart Fairney
    July 13, 2009

    I just finished the ever contraversial “Bell Curve” and it produces loads of stats showing better educational outcomes for kids of married parents.

    It doesn’t follow that keeping the parents married would make the kids smarter of course (there could be any number of reasons) but overall, it is a laudable goal. Who cares more for children than their parents?

    The government’s role in this? Tread carefully. Use the tax system to seriously support marriage, not tinkering with a few quid, and puh-lease…. stop facilitating single mothers with social housing ~ let their families and/or the father house and support ’em. (words left out)

  15. jim
    July 13, 2009

    You overlook the role of the state in destroying marriages. I can tell you from personal experience that most marriages end because of financial pressure.
    My grandfather was a lowly midshipman, then a court secretary. However, he was able to buy a semi-detached house, bring up two children, smoke and my granny never worked.
    Today this would not be possible and that is because of government policy. If you look at rates of money printing by successive Conservative and Labour governments since the end of world war 2, you would see that social breakdown is directly linked to the debasement of our currency. The more an administration prints, the less a man’s salary can buy, the more divorces there are.
    Since we went off the gold standard, the pound has lost 98% of its buying power.
    As Lenin said ‘the quickest way to destroy capitalism is to debase the currency’. He was correct, we have done it to ourselves and we have also debased our society.
    As Plato said, democracy leads to tyranny. We’re about there.

  16. Adrian Peirson
    July 13, 2009

    I agree, Marriage should be the Norm, However, because of longer Lifespans perhaps there should be 20 yr limits on an initial Marriage, that provides enough time for parents to bring up any children in a stable environment.
    Each could then choose to extend the Marriage by ten years thereafter.

    Unfortunately, One if the chief aims of Communism was to undermine the basic pillars of Western society, christianity, the family, prohibiting parents and teachers from disciplining children, promoting 24 hr drinking.
    They clearly want society to decay, they need the excuse to impose the EU Police state the stability of the family unit therefore has to be destroyed.

    The Collapse and destruction of our society is all by design.

  17. James Morrison
    July 14, 2009

    I do feel quite strongly about this, and sometimes wonder if my views are a little archaic in these liberal times, not least because no-one openly seems to talk like this any more. I certainly do feel that something should be done to encourage marriage, though I am not sure IDS’s plans are the way forward. I think a focus on society, and in particular the welfare state, would be a good place to start.

    Obviously there are exceptions to every rule (either way), but statistically, a married, heterosexual couple, are able to create by far and away the best environment to raise children. That this isn’t discussed any more, is largely down to the bars that polical correctness puts on anyone attempting to promote this fact.

    This is not much of a surprise however as, ultimately, the destruction of the nuclear family is a prime tenet of Marxism, not least because nuclear families are largely self-reliant with no need for state intervention in most aspects of it’s daily life. The Marxoids who control our government, and our media, have done wonders in creating conditions where marriage is no longer required, or even expected. Political correctness, another favoured weapon of the Marxoids, prevents anyone from being able to speak out about such things as it is only the deafening squeals of “xxxxx-phobic”, bellowed out by the minorities, which are heard/reported. As such, no-one dare raise their head above the parapet to speak out.

    Then there is the feminist lobby, who have also pushed for, and got, very lop-sided divorce settlements, especially where children are concerned. It is extremely rare for a father to be awarded custody of children, no matter how feckless the mother might be. Baby Peter is a prime example; a father who tried, and failed, to gain custody of his child knowing that he was being neglected (and mistreated) by his mother and her latest boyfriend. I have great sympathy for the Fathers for Justice campaigners, especially when you read some of their individual stories. As a married man, who has recently become a proud father, nothing terrifies me more than the thought my wife could up, take our daughter and leave on a whim, and I would be reduced to being an “every other weekend” father, if she so chose, no matter what the circumstances of our seperation.

    However, these liberal policies, instead of empowering women, as the feminists claimed, actually encourage men to jump from partner to partner, making no committments, and certainly not to bothering sticking around if a child appears, knowing, as both parties do, that the State will step in and help out. The biggest losers in all of this, of course, are the children.

    Only now, as these children begin to reach adulthood, are we beginning to see the fruits of these policies, and boy are they rotten.

    Liberalism is great, lots of fun, with no responsibility. That it actually leads down a path towards the sort of totalitarian mess such as we have now, is kind of ironic.

  18. A Griffin
    July 14, 2009

    Iain Duncan Smith schould be commended for bringing these ideas out into the open. Marriage is about our private personal life, but it impinges on society as a whole. It might seem simplistic but shouldn’t we use the carrot to reward rather than the stick to punish? If marriage provides the best outcome then the state must make it attractive (financially) and not reward or punish unwanted behaviour (single parenting and the like). I often say to my husband that “someone has to bring up children and it’s a hard job”.This brings us on to the issue of what is a living wage in this country? Is it one where an individual parental wage schould be able to support a family of four, thus freeing the other parent to do personal child care ( and society good-works), or is it one where children can only be provided for by two parental wages and childcare is farmed out to nurseries/schools/the TV. etc. Perhaps stable nuclear families with enough wealth to free up parent’s time provide the best outcome for children rather than just marriage itself?

  19. HJ
    July 14, 2009

    I don’t agree.

    Nobody is forcing anyone to get married. Contrary to your assertion, John, many financially prudent people aren’t put off being married by possible divorce settlements.

    In fact, for the most part, were it not for the financial disincentives that governments have created against marriage (for example, if you lose your job and you have a working – even low paid – spouse, you will get next to nothing from the state, despite tax/NI contributions), the natural economic and social advantages of marriage would be clear.

    Quite simply, single parenthood outside a stable relationship is not viable for most people without state handouts. There isn’t enough money to go round when people split up (if they have children).

    As for pre-nups, the point of marriage is that it is a pre-defined state-recognised contract in which you agree to share your wealth. Therefore marriage should and must render any such pre-nup agreement null and void – there is only one sort of marriage contract, not one that can be modified by other contracts and agreements. If you can’t accept this, then draw up your own customised ‘partnership’ agreement instead of marriage – but don’t pretend it is exactly the same as marriage.

  20. Chris H
    July 15, 2009

    Barely thirty years ago, people got married because they wanted to share their lives with each other until death. Now, such people are laughed at, it seems, by a society that encourages folk to change partners like socks and “have a good time while you can”. Strange though it might seem, many people badly need the psychological comfort and security that marriage generates… I personally would have always refused to simply “live” with someone because of the deep feeling of insecurity that it has.
    I once had a friend who lived with her partner for over ten years, only to come home one day and find their property empty and him gone off with another woman. She didnt of course have any claim to anything, in terms of property or money, and was quite devastated for many months after. Yes it happens also to married couples, but at least there’s the opportunity to settle things on a legal basis.

    I agree with another reader above that finances are often the root cause; something which could probably be dealt with by advice, guidance and living within one’s means.
    As a somewhat fussy young woman, prior to marriage, I was very picky about my partners and had very few before meeting the person I’ve been married to now for 26 years. Nowadays, there is something rather sordid about watching a woman changing her man every few years, having a baby, getting shot of the bloke then picking up another one a few years later. You can keep your liberalism. I’m just glad I’m not a girl in my 20’s any more, in this day and age.

    And one more thing….more marriages lasting longer would reduce the ludicrous demand for so much single-person housing. The builders could get on building family homes with gardens, instead of the acres of rabbit-boxes which we now have, to house divorced woman and divorced man.

  21. Meg R
    August 22, 2009

    Whatever our ideals are the fact is divorce is here to stay. The best way to deal with this in the interest of children invloved is the presumption of 50/50 equal shared care of the children as long as there are no safety issues. Not only would this be best for children when divorce is inevitable but this would be the biggest deterent for people seeking divorce i.e. each parent would lose contact with the children for half of their lives until the children reach adulthood.

    The financial aspect regarding benefits could be dealt with quite simply. Split child benefit, each parent claims child tax credits as if they were sole parent and get exactly half of the resulting figure. No maintenance passes between them and each provides for the child while in their care. No money wasted on lawyers no CSA. If parents choose to help each other out with childcare which deviates from 50/50 split this remains unofficial and does not effect finance or equal shared care status.

  22. darcy morrison
    September 22, 2009

    Can you provide more information or how to go about doing this?

    best regards

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