In defence of civil divorce

What could be more miserable than an acrimonious marriage?

THIS WEEK we heard the doom-laden news that divorce was a terrible threat to children. Couples, according to Tory leader William Hague, should stay together. Divorce is altogether too easy, and marriage really is the ideal.

Coming from a family of three generations of official marital breakdown (grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles and my sister and I have all been divorced), I have to protest against the notion that divorce is the greatest social problem faced by our children. That dubious prize must go to parental unhappiness in all its forms. We all know about the emotional pain of divorce, the loss of hope for the parents and the confusion for the children, because it is a public admission of failure that the morally smug can point the finger at. But what of the kind of insidious acrimony that is buried deep within the stay-together-for-the-sake-of-the-children families?

There are no statistics, reports or surveys on the pervasive long-term effect on children of terminally unhappy parents, because it is impossible to gauge. How can you judge the disadvantages of a particular marriage? It is much easier to judge the general disadvantage of divorce.

In his family law policy, Lord Irvine of Lairg seeks to offer counselling to married couples, and the Government pledges to spend pounds 3m on grants to marriage support and research agencies. Although Lord Irvine realises that divorce is never an easy option, he also seems to understand that some marital problems are insurmountable. Sensibly, he wants couples to turn to mediation as a much healthier and cheaper option then litigation: "Scoring points off each other and paying lawyers to do it comes out of money that should go towards building new lives and the lives of children."

His policy seems to recognise that people will still split up and that no amount of disapproval from the long-term married is going to change that. What is important is not to concentrate on making divorcing couples feel like bad parents, but to help them make arrangements that will allow them to be good parents despite the circumstances.

And it is possible. Katey Robertson has a son and a daughter aged four and seven. She split up with her husband a couple of years ago because she found it impossible to live with his temper, heavy drinking and his willingness to leave all of the caring of the children to her. "I was utterly miserable and he hated living with me, but as a couple living apart we are doing really well.

"My leaving gave my ex-husband a real shock as far as the children are concerned. He sobered up and realised how much he has missed out. He takes them every weekend and picks them up from school and brings them home a couple of times a week. He now has the experience of being responsible for the children over quite long periods of time.

"We go to all parents' evenings and school events together and I know the children are secure in the fact that we are utterly committed to them. His involvement is far more regular and organised and I am much happier because I no longer feel like a doormat."

I would argue that civilised splits, which have the uncanny knack of making the parents concentrate their efforts on the welfare of their children, are actually less rare than one thinks. As the terrifyingly perfect Penelope Leach says: "Nobody would bring a child into the world intending to face him with such disruption but, if you do not have the power to prevent it, you do have the power to see him through it, so don't waste unnecessary energy on feeling that you have failed him. You will only have done so if, between you, he loses out on love."

My vast family of step-sisters, half-brothers, step-step-aunts and adopted cousins is probably as far removed from the "Janet and John" ideal of the small unbroken family unit as you can get. My Gran (who may well have started the whole thing off by leaving my grandfather in the Forties) looks around in amazement at family gatherings and says: "My family is the most extraordinary mix of race, religion and class that I have ever seen."

Part of her loves to rebel against the claustrophobic social mores of her family, who no doubt disapproved when she fell in love with another man all that time ago. She is best friends with her ex-daughter-in-law, as well as being a source of love and support not only to her own grandchildren, but to her stepdaughter's daughter, her stepson's son and her stepson's adopted son's ex-wife - to name but a few. It is a messy tribe. Within our family there is a lot of evidence that within marriage (sorry, Gran) shit happens.

Having said all this, the state of marriage remains an ideal. My parents both remarried very happily and last year I married a man who is also a product of two generations of divorce. When the best man - my new brother- in-law (himself recently divorced) - got up to make a speech, he looked around at the guests, and instead of muttering something about hope over experience, sighed and opened his speech with: "Did you know that 10 out of 10 divorces start with marriage?" Quite.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all