Married couples should be able to get “over the counter” divorces at register offices and avoid judicial supervision, the most senior family judge in England and Wales has suggested.
Sir James Munby also called for cohabiting couples to have similar legal protections as those who are married.
But critics argued that Munby’s proposals would result in “the abolition of marriage”.
Speaking to judges and lawyers in his court in London, Munby also called for divorces to be fault-free, essentially meaning that neither party takes responsibility for ending the marriage.
He reasoned: “The family, though fundamental to society, has undergone dramatic changes in recent decades.”
He said: “The fact is that many adults and children, whether through choice or circumstance, live in families more or less removed from what, until comparatively recently, would have been recognised as the typical nuclear family”.
But family researcher Patricia Morgan has warned against the judge’s proposals.
Morgan, who authored a study on the collapse of marriage, The Marriage Files, told the Daily Mail: “It would be the end, the demolition, the abolition of marriage.
“These ideas would mean an end to any declaration of public commitment by a couple.
“They would open the door to the monster state, which would arrange your affairs and divide your money whether you like it or not.”
Referring to Munby’s proposals concerning cohabiting couples, a Times editorial explained “some worry that it is illiberal to impose rights and responsibilities on a couple who may deliberately have never chosen to formalise their relationship”.
It added: “Many of society’s greatest social problems are defeated by strong families and worsened by family breakdown.
“Policymakers should do nothing to inadvertently weaken the bonds that keep parents together.
“The advantages of marriage are already available to any couple.
“They just have to get married first.”