A High Court judge has hit out at the “Hello magazine approach” to marriage which he said has led to a dramatic increase in divorce and family breakdown.
Sir Paul Coleridge, who sits in the Family Division, said he felt compelled to speak out because of the unprecedented scale of the problem.
He is now taking the unusual step for a serving judge to launch the Marriage Foundation to make the case that stable, long-term marriages are best for individuals, for families and for society.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There comes a time when sometimes you have to speak out in circumstances where you feel you know more than anybody involved in the debate.
“I happen to think that the family judiciary have a contribution to make to this debate. Most of us have watched as the situation has gradually got more and more and more appalling and out of control and there comes a time when it is, I think, irresponsible to remain quiet.
“In terms of the impact that family breakdown is having on society, nobody – and I emphasise that – nobody has the experience that the family judiciary have.
“If we remain quiet, it is like doctors who see epidemics going through their surgeries and say ‘We can’t make a comment on that because it might be said to be commenting on the way people are living’.
“This is now happening across Britain – and indeed Europe and North America – on a scale we have never seen before and the impact it has on the whole of society is very, very real and dramatic and we need to highlight it and do something about it.”
Sir Paul insisted that he was not mounting a moral campaign but simply wanted to set out the facts in a “non-preachy, non-didactic way”.
He said that celebrity magazines such as Hello promote unrealistic expectations about marriage and people need to understand the importance of working at relationships to make them work.
“I normally find the people who are in there (Hello) are in my court within about a year or two,” he said.
“What I criticise – what I call the Hello magazine, Hollywood approach to this whole business – is that there is still, or maybe more than there was, a completely unrealistic expectation about long-term relationships and marriage in particular, that if you find the right ideal partner that’s all that matters and things will just carry on from there on and you will be divinely happy.
“We all know, all of us who have been in relationships – whether married or unmarried – for a long time is that the only way that they are made to work and the only way that they become really qualitatively good is by absolutely grinding away at it.
“That’s when people find that, actually, if they get through the difficulties and do get the help, they will in fact end up with a product that is really worth having.”