Divorce damages children. In 2009, a judge quoted the notorious words of Philip Larkin at a couple whose acrimonious split he felt was harming their child: ‘They f**k you up your mum and dad / They don't mean to, but they do'.
These lines resound in divorce cases across the country. So anything which might, just might, make couples think twice about parting gets my vote.
A cheer or two, therefore, for the new law enshrined in this week’s Children and Families Bill. It specifies that couples heading for the divorce courts must, in future, attend a ‘mediation information and assessment meeting’. If that saves one marriage or makes life better for a single child then, all other considerations apart, it’s worth doing.
Children are supposed to have two parents. Biology is unequivocal. And they really should be working as a team in the same household if children are to have the best chance in life.
A report from the Government-backed Economic and Social Research Council, led by Professor Mel Bartley in November 2012, found that children whose parents remain married (or by extension together but unmarried, I suppose) are less likely to suffer from asthma, to become overweight, or to be injured by accidents before they are five than children whose background is less stable. And, the report states that it all gets physically, mentally and socially worse when the children hit their teens and the effects of parental breakup in childhood go on biting for the rest of the child’s life.
It’s pretty damning stuff, based on the large scale British Cohort Studies which looks at people born in 1946, 1958, 1970 and, most recently, the 2000 Millennium Study. And it’s far from the only evidence.
The trouble is that divorce and separation is now such ‘normal’ behaviour – at 15 almost half of all British children have seen their parents part – that few people stop to think about the alternatives or the potential long-term damage caused by their decisions.
Instead separating parents blithely assure themselves – and perhaps each other – that the children will be fine, that it will be better for them in the long run and other such comfortable but phoney clichés.
Of course there are exceptions - domestic violence for example. No adult or child should be trapped in a household where one member uses physical or mental violence against one or more of the others. Even the new law about having to attend mediation excludes couples from the requirement where this is a factor.
And personally, I wouldn’t worry too much about childless couples. As two adults without juvenile dependents they can, as far as I’m concerned, do what they want. So if you want to be free to walk in and out of relationships at will follow (the childless) Larkin’s bitter advice: ‘Get out as early as you can./ Don’t have any kids yourself.’
But once you choose to bring a child into the world your life is no longer your own. And it’s high time we all accepted that.