Family life is falling apart, judge warns

Family life is in meltdown and tackling the crisis should top the Government’s agenda, a senior judge has warned.

Mr Justice Coleridge, a Family Division judge, told a conference of family lawyers in Brighton:”What is certain is that almost all of society’s social ills can be traced directly to the collapse of the family life.”

Family breakdown, he told delegates, is as serious as economic decline, terrorism and street crime in terms of its threat to British society, and is “…on a scale, depth and breadth which few of us could have imagined even a decade ago”.

Speaking of children caught up in drink, drugs and school truanting he said: “Scratch the surface of these cases and you invariably find a miserable family, overseen by a dysfunctional and fractured parental relationship – or none at all.”

“I am not saying every broken family produces dysfunctional children,” he added, “but I am saying that almost every dysfunctional child is the product of a broken family.”

“What is government doing to recognise and face up to the emerging situation? The answer is: very little and nothing like enough. It is fiddling whilst Rome burns.”

While the judge identifies family breakdown as a root cause of social harm, he appears to support recommendations which would further undermine marriage.

He favours giving cohabiting couples legal rights on separation, enforceable pre-nuptial agreements, and reform of divorce law to remove the “fault”element from the process.

Mike Judge, Head of Communications at The Christian Institute, said: “Some think the mechanism of a family breakdown, rather than the fact of it, is what causes the damage. They want family breakdown to be made quick and easy to reduce the harm. But evidence continually points to the fact of family breakdown being a key component in social damage.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Children, Families and Schools said: “We do not agree that there has been a breakdown in the family – 70% of families are headed by a married couple and a recent BBC poll suggests that three-quarters of people in Britain are optimistic about the future of their families, 24% higher than when the same question was asked in 1964.”

However, recent figures from the Office of National Statistics show that one in four children now lives with a lone parent, while the proportion of all children living in a single parent family has almost doubled over the last 20 years.

Lone parents were found to be the most likely to be living in ‘poor quality environments’, with their children making up over a third of all those living in poverty.