Couples should marry before having children, High Court judge says

Sir Paul Coleridge says children are a responsibility not a right, and should only be had by couples ‘stable enough’ to tie the knot

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The Independent Online

Couples should not have children unless their relationship is stable enough to consider getting married, a senior British family lawyer and High Court judge has said.

Sir Paul Coleridge said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph that children should only be conceived by a couple “stable enough to cope with the rigours” involved, and added that those in such a position “should consider adding the protection of marriage”.

The comments came as a think-tank run by Sir Paul released statistics suggesting unmarried couples with children were twice as likely to end up as a broken home as married couples.

Yet the judge, who next year will retire from the bench where he has sat for decades as Mr Justice Coleridge, insisted he was not trying to “preach morality”, or saying people should absolutely not have children unless they were prepared to marry.

He said: “The reality of the family is very simple. If your relationship is stable enough to cope with the rigours of child rearing then you should consider seriously adding the protection of marriage to your relationship.

“If your relationship is not stable enough to cope with children you should not have them.

“You have no right to have children, you only have responsibilities if you do have them.”

Sir Paul also told the paper about the couples he had seen over the years obsessed with their own “rights”, and criticised them for not instead considering what was best for their children.

Official figures show that the number of married people in England and Wales is now at 45 per cent, in the minority for the first time since census records began in 1801.

And Sir Paul also had strong words for politicians, many of whom he said believe cohabitation and marriage are the same thing.

“There is the idea out there that it doesn’t make any difference whether you cohabit or marry, and it doesn’t – except that one tends to last and the other tends not to last.”

Sir Paul’s comments were met with outrage from some Twitter users. Nicky Clark said: “We've been together 20 years and found out we were having Lizzy after 6 weeks. Stick that up your powdered wig mate.”

Cambridge law student Richard Nicholl wrote: “Coleridge J mixes up correlation and causation. Marriage doesn't cause stability, it is a manifestation of stability,” and Sally Campbell tweeted: “What a patronising load of tosh.”

Others praised the judge. Thomas Lawler said: “Finally, somebody with a public role talks sense on parenting.”

Christian Guy, the director of the Centre for Social Justice, was also quoted by the Telegraph. He said: “Long-term results show that there is something different about being married, it is more stable. People are bound together when they are married in a way that they are not if they are just living together.”