Except it’s not every family, is it

// 15 July 2009

The Tories’ patronising obsession with dictating the terms of the voting public’s relationships continues – a Tory think-tank report is calling for a compulsory three-month cooling off period in divorce cases, because apparently couples can’t decide for themselves if they really do want to split up. (No word on whether this would apply to civil partnerships.)

The amusingly inaccurately named report by Iain Duncan Smith is called Every Family Matters. It looks very likely to at least strongly influence Conservative party policy if they get into power next election, or, as Penny Red puts it, Torygeddon. We already knew this was in the works, but this confirms some of the detail.

It’s sort of darkly funny to me that the Conservatives so often call upon the notion of the ‘nanny state’ to dismiss the silly idea of providing useful services, but think they know better than adult Britons what sort of relationship is best for them, and of course they know better what women should do with our own bodies.

It is patronising, like family lawyer Sandra Sinclair is quoted as saying in the Liverpool Post, where she injects a healthy dose of realism:

Ms Sinclair said: “This is not a well-thought-through proposal. There is already in place by law a compulsory period of one year from the date of the marriage before divorce proceedings can be instigated.

“This is typical of a potential paternalistic Executive which is completely out of touch with reality if they believe that separating couples take the decision to divorce lightly.

“For the vast majority of couples, it is the hardest decision for them to make, usually taken after months of excruciating and careful thought, sometimes associated with prolonged misery.

“This report and proposal is paternalistic and deeply patronising – couples should be free to make their own choices when it is right for them.”

Via Penny Red, this piece by Johann Hari goes over the evidence:

Professor Kelly Musick and Dr Ann Meier of Cornell University have carried out a study of children whose parents stay together for the sake of the kids. We all know some: parents who can’t stand each other, but have made a hard-headed decision to stay together nonetheless. They are exactly the kind of people who would be glued back together by Cameron’s policies if they succeeded in their goal.

It turns out their children do worse than any other group – including those of divorcees or single mums. If you are raised by arguing parents who stayed together only for you, then you are 33 percent more likely to become a binge-drinking teen than if you have a single parent, for example.

Having parents locked in live-in combat damages children more than having separated parents, or just one single parent – and the damage lasts well into adulthood. The offspring are more likely to have bad marriages themselves, and more likely to have children at a very young age.

It makes sense. Would Jimmy rather have a happy mum and dad who live apart, or depressed, stressed, angry parents sharing a bed?

So Cameron’s first glance at the figures turns out, then, to be wrong. He was comparing divorcees and single parents to happy two-parent families who want to stick together. But happy two parent families who want to stick together are not what his policy would create. If he had an effect at all, he would be tying together miserable couples who would otherwise have split. To assume you would get the same sociological outcomes from them is an Enron-style accounting error.

Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 15 July 2009 at 12:31 pm

This latest proposal is all about controlling women, since it is primarily women who decide to divorce. But even when women decide to initiate divorce proceedings such action is never taken lightly.

Remember patriarchy or male-control is all about power over women and central to power is the notion of ‘marriage’ wherein a woman becomes the property of the man.

Now of course claims could be made ‘but what about men who want to divorce’ – well history informs us that men have always been able to divorce or seperate from their wives but women have never been afforded the same rights.

As stated in this article there already exists a ‘one year cooling off period’ before one or both partners can initiate divorce proceedings.

Given the conservatives constantly promote ‘family values’ meaning of course, beliefs that ‘families’ must all consist of one male head of household with adult female and children as subordinates, this partially explains why this report wants more control over whether or not adult women and men should be allowed to initiate divorce proceedings.

This report neatly ignores the fact empirical evidence as already mentioned, shows that children brought up in one-parent or rather female headed only households fare far better than children who are raised within households wherein the only reason both partners remain is because of the children.

But this is irrelevant when the hidden agenda continues to be more of the same – male control over women’s lives, women’s bodies and of course women’s minds.

KJB // Posted 15 July 2009 at 12:57 pm

As I said on PR’s blog, I can’t help fearing for those will be trapped back into abusive relationships during the ‘cooling period.’ My own sister might well have been one of them if we weren’t protecting her and because (for the time being) such a measure is thankfully not in place!

Jess McCabe // Posted 15 July 2009 at 1:16 pm

@KJB I completely agree, it’s a real risk factor.

Sam // Posted 15 July 2009 at 1:17 pm

I’ve just skimmed the (320 page) report during my lunch hour (link:http://www.iflg.uk.com/documents/CSJ_Every_Family_Matters_full.pdf).

I think my favourite part is, “In practice, the same sex community is relatively small

across the country and most of our comments and recommendations are

therefore referable to the heterosexual community” (p74).

Relative to what, exactly? The het community as a whole? OK, sure. Relative to other groups discussed, e.g. children in local authority care, special guardianship, children of prisoners, families subject to relocation orders? Oh yes, CSJ, it’s because of the miniscule gay community that you’re not going to bother discussing the issue.

sianmarie // Posted 15 July 2009 at 2:02 pm

i interviewed iain duncan smith for the guardian and although he was very polite and pleasant, i was struck by a real sense of paranoia he had about the the breakdown of the family and how family breakdown was being promoted. it was just so odd! i am sick of single mums etc being blamed for the breakdown of society – no one seems to be blaming fathers who leave and who the mother never sees a penny from again, and this is far far more common than the right wing press likes to admit.

a child needs LOVE and STABILITY. it can get role models from outside and inside the family unit. parents who hate each and argue are bad for children’s mental health. parents (whether bio or not) who love and care for their children are the best parent(s) a child can have.

Claire // Posted 15 July 2009 at 2:54 pm

The Home Office advise against mediation in circumstances of domestic violence. Yet the Conservative Party cooling off period suggests some sort of mandatory mediation. Most spousal homicides occur after the victim (generally the woman) has begun the process of leaving the abusive spouse. Looks like the Conservative Party are endangering lives with this policy.

lisa // Posted 15 July 2009 at 2:56 pm

As always the focus is on putting the parents’ relationship into 2 boxes ‘married’ or ‘divorced’. This is extremely unhelpful and does not reflect the complex range of relationships that parents have nor does it reflect the reality that cohabitation is in practice (especially from the children’s perspective) little different to marriage.

On the other hand parents must weigh up the risks before introducing stepparents (whether married to them or not) into the home – they are far more dangerous (even if it’s just psychological harm) to children than natural parents – perhaps it might be better to wait until children are in their late teens and more able to defend themselves !

mary // Posted 15 July 2009 at 3:35 pm

Sam: does it really say the same sex community? That’s hilarious! It doesn’t even being to make sense. What would the same-sex community” even be?

Ten quid says the people who use “the same-sex community” are the same people who would complain that they can’t possibly be “homophobic” because ACTUALLY that would mean “fear of the same” according to the Greek roots.

Nothing says “I’m really awkward around this topic aargh” like getting the terminology all wrong.

Anna // Posted 15 July 2009 at 3:58 pm

I heard about this on Talksport and the female commentator-y thing on there (commentator? presenter? guest? one of those things, anyway) pointed out quite rightly that women who are suffering from domestic violence could well lose their lives as a result of this measure; to which she was told by the (male) presenter that ‘that’s not the point though, that’s not the issue here, that’s not what we’re talking about’ as if DV was some wholly separate entity from marriage. She might as well have started talking about the geography of Texas.

Karen // Posted 15 July 2009 at 6:59 pm

I finished a life sentence five years back. 23 years of sheer hell unable to get away from home because my mother refused to seperate from my abusive father and wouldnt put us in care. I have now had five years of psychotherapy, costing me over 200 quid a month cos the NHS totally fucked me about, its ongoing and one day I may be able to handle my clinical depression better. This is what happens when innocent kids are forced to stay home with parents with big problems (my father is a paranoid schizophrenic and now a post-op trans/cis-sexual(not that the cross dressing was a problem but being beaten with garden canes, called “cunts”, smacked hard regularly and threatened with suicide and death every day sucked) who just wont call it a day). If the tories do this, they will have blood on their hands.

niqi // Posted 15 July 2009 at 7:59 pm

The negatives are fairly clear. But it’s tricky to spot (from the article and from skimming the report itself) any kind of proposed practical benefit from this measure – other than “saving” obviously failing marriages.

The idea that we are supposed to go for a policy that limits individual rights for the greater good of forcing more heterosexual people to live together in the good old “conservative family” seems wildly simplistic.

Claire // Posted 15 July 2009 at 11:13 pm


Did you really mean to say step-parents are more dangerous? That’s quite a sweeping statement tha’t pretty offensive and obviously empirically untrue for the children who have suffered abuse at the hands of their natural parents. Of course, when it comes to DV, lack of support often means women who were in violent relationships end up back in the familiarity of another violent relationship and then the step-parents can turn out to be detrimental, but I don’t think you can be so sweepingly generalised as to say step-parents are more dangerous than real parents.

Kate // Posted 16 July 2009 at 9:40 am

Claire, step-parents are more likely to abuse or kill children than the child’s natural parent. But we’re talking about a very small minority here and it’s a bit absurd to use that to argue against divorce.

My problem with IDS’ proposal is that it directs all the help at people who need it least. He ignores the very large question of whether married people are happier, wealthier and healthier because happier, wealthier and healthier people are more likely to get married in the first place (the evidence suggests so) or if marriage, as oppossed to cohabitation, makes them that way. There seems to be no evidence that marriage is the magic cure-all. Instead if the Conservatives are serious about tackling social problems they will need far more radical proposals to target poverty.

Lorna West // Posted 16 July 2009 at 2:11 pm


I agree, not a fan of IDS, but the nanny state comment does have some truth, ie the smoking ban… and some of my colleagues fall into the ‘London media hypocrisy’ category – ie buying fair trade coffee but snorting cocaine at parties… when challenged they dismiss as ‘oh well’, yet their habit is tainted with exploited blood

Jess McCabe // Posted 16 July 2009 at 2:19 pm

@Lorna West This isn’t the time or place to discuss the smoking ban, but as an aside the distinction I would see is that smoking in a bar or restaurant puts the health at risk of workers who have no choice but to breathe it in all day if they want to keep the job, and also less pressingly but still relevant, everyone else passing through. I don’t think that’s about the ‘nanny state’ stopping individuals doing what they want, it’s primarily about workers’ rights and the idea that getting cancer from second-hand smoke is not an acceptable risk of going to work.

Lorna West // Posted 16 July 2009 at 2:28 pm

i take it you don’t smoke huh? :)

and what of the hypocrites i referred to, do you agree with my sentiment?

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