Leading Article: The case for divorce grows stronger

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The Independent Online
THIS week's events have increased pressure on the Prince and Princess of Wales to seek a divorce sooner rather than later. When the royal couple's separation was announced in December 1992, it was said they had 'no plans' to divorce. Doubts about the sustainability of the separation increased in June, when Prince Charles confessed in his television interview with Jonathan Dimbleby that he had committed adultery when his marriage had irretrievably broken down. This week's publication of a book claiming to describe an affair between Princess Diana and a former Guards officer, James Hewitt, reinforces the view that divorce would be the most sensible solution for all concerned.

Prince Charles's interview and the earlier biography of Princess Diana by Andrew Morton were seen as set-pieces in the public relations battle between the two parties. In that war - biographers and publishers apart - there can only be losers. The most certain are the institution of monarchy and the royal couple's two children, now 12 and 10 years old.

For ordinary citizens divorce is not necessarily the best course in the aftermath of a marriage's breakdown. If a separation is reasonably amicable, money not desperately short and reconciliation conceivable, there is something to be said for a period of quiet recovery. But it is one thing for Princess Margaret and the Princess Royal to divorce, which both did with a measure of dignity and to the benefit of their privacy. It is a graver matter for the heir to the throne to do so.

Yet the price of the present competitive separation has become too high to sustain. The Queen's reputation is intact. But the institution she represents is being steadily eroded by the cumulative effect of one royal scandal after another.

A divorce would not necessarily diminish the media or the public's interest in Prince Charles's private life: any woman in whom he were to show signs of interest would risk being assessed as a future queen. But without Diana's status as his wife, media interest in her would eventually fall away. Since Charles's friends seem to be more intelligent, loyal and discreet than hers, a sharp drop in tittle-tattle should result and the battle for public favour between the two would end.

A divorce would hold no constitutional implications beyond the elimination of Princess Diana as a future Queen - although subsequent remarriage would be another matter. With joint custody, the children's welfare could be preserved. It is in the Royal Family's interests as a whole that the present painful situation be brought to a formal and legal end.

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