A senior High Court judge has argued that couples should not have children until they are ready to wed.
Sir Paul Coleridge, who is retiring from the bench next year after decades as a family lawyer, said cohabiting parents were less stable than married ones.
Sir Paul told the Telegraph: “I don’t think they should have children until they are sure that their relationship is stable enough to cope with the stresses and strains. If your relationship is not stable enough to cope with children you should not have them.”
He added: “There is this idea out there that it doesn’t make any difference whether you cohabit or marry [to which I say] no it doesn’t — except that one tends to last and the other tends not to last. And when you are considering what is best for children, stability is the name of the game.”
Sir Paul insisted that he was not intending to “preach morality”, adding: “But 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.
“You have a responsibility – you have no right to have children, you only have responsibilities if you have them.
“In the courts people talk about their rights – you have no right where children are concerned … what you have are responsibilities and duties to do the best you can for them.”
He made clear he was not saying people should not have children unless they were prepared to marry, according to the Telegraph.
The newspaper said that the Office for National Statistics had reported earlier this year that the proportion of children born to unmarried mothers in England and Wales reached a record 47.5 per cent last year.
This means that as many as 346,595 babies were born outside marriage or civil partnerships in England and Wales.
It has risen from 25 per cent in 1988. If the trend continues it is estimated that more than half of all children will be born out of wedlock by 2016.
Sir Paul, who sits in the High Court as Mr Justice Coleridge, said there was a “high level of ignorance” in the political establishment about the benefits of marriage. He praised Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, who has pressed for tax breaks for married couples, as one of the few figures willing to advocate the virtues of marriage.
Christian Guy, director of the Centre for Social Justice, said: “A lot of people don’t realise that long-term cohabitation with children is really rare – most people with children who are still together after many years are married.
“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.”