Western Mail, 1st May 2012

They’re the glitzy showbiz weddings that yesterday promoted a High Court judge to launch a campaign to promote stable, long-term marriages.

Sir Paul Coleridge hit out at the “Hello! magazine approach” to nuptials, claiming they had led to a dramatic increase in divorce and family breakdown.

And by last night his view had already struck a chord, leading some Welsh commentators to call for better education about the realities of long-term relationships.

Mr Justice Coleridge, who sits in the Family Division, said he felt compelled to speak out because of what he said was 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 long-term marriages are best for individuals, for families and for society.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he estimated that divorce means about 3.8 million children were caught up in the family justice system each year, and claimed the ease of divorce rules had led to instability of family life, which had damaging consequences for children, parents and society.

The judge also said that over-the-top weddings featured in celebrity magazines also had a part to play.

“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.”

Lorraine Barrett, a former AM and humanist celebrant from Penarth, said too much focus on weddings has been created, and continues to be perpetuated, by parts of the media.

She referred to popular programmes like Don’t Tell the Bride, My Big Fat Gypsy wedding and agreed that many magazines generate a fairytale event that bears little relation to an actual long-term relationship.

“There is far too much focus on the wedding itself – the dress, the party and the cake. The big fairytale Royal Wedding celebrations doesn’t help.

“I think attitudes towards the commitment of marriage should be engendered at schools. I certainly think that we need to educate our children to understand about relationships, what being married means and what commitment means.”

The Rev Leigh Richardson, Rector at St Peter’s Church in Carmarthen, said the general perception of marriage and divorce needed to be addressed.

“We aim to encourage couples to consider the nature of marriage and what their expectations were and how it could change their lives.

“I think what is sad is how the notion of divorce is trivialised but that the consequences of ending a marriage can be devastating, particularly where children are involved. I think as a society we must all take responsibility for creating an understanding of marriage that acknowledges that there will be hard times and that long-term relationships sometimes need working at.”

Terry Prendergast, chief executive of Marriage Care said that people’s expectations of marriage need to be managed better.

“It is very clear from research that here the adult relationship in a marriage is good, adults and children there statistically do better emotionally, educationally and socially.

“When we talk about marriage we talk about love and romance, it isn’t often that we address how hard relationships can be and this is something I think we ought to be addressing.”

However, Sarah Wyburn, Partner with Cardiff-based Wendy Hopkins Family Law Practice said Mr Justice Coleridge’s comments, while well-meaning were ultimately targeting a non-existent problem.

“It is laudable that a senior judge has come out strongly in favour of marriage,” she said.

“I don’t think anyone would dispute that the ‘trivialisation’ of marriage in the media is a bad thing.

“However, I would say that his comments don’t reflect what I see day in day out as a specialist divorce lawyer.

“Mr Coleridge talks of Britain’s ‘addiction to divorce’, and a celebrity-driven movement that paints a lavish wedding and the end of a marriage almost as a lifestyle choice. He says people need to work harder to save their marriages rather than taking the easy route of divorce.

“That’s not my experience. It is very rare that anyone comes to see me as a first resort. In 10 years of practice, I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody who was considering divorce on a whim.”