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REV DR ALISTAIR P DONALD The Manse_ New Deer_ Aberdeenshire_ AB53

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									RESPONSE 133 – REV DR ALISTAIR P DONALD


REV DR ALISTAIR P DONALD
The Manse, New Deer, Aberdeenshire, AB53 6TD

5th December 2000

Mr Perry Clarke
Scottish Executive Justice Department
Spur V1, Saughton House
Broomhouse Drive
EDINBURGH
EH11 3XD


Dear Sir

CONSULTATION ON MARRIAGE REFORM

I refer to the consultation paper Parents and Children - a white paper on Scottish Family
Law. I am very concerned about some of the proposals relating to divorce, marriage and
cohabitation (Question 4, Proposal 8, p. 15).

I write both as a Church of Scotland minister and as a concerned citizen. As a minister, I note
that the proposals would cause difficulties of conscience for many Christians, who may
nowadays be in a minority but whose views should nonetheless be given consideration. As a
citizen, some of the proposals would, I believe, be harmful not only for Christians but also
for society in general. My reasons for this belief are as follows:

Impact of divorce on children (para 4.10)

You will be aware of the recently-published study by the Institute for Social and Economic
Research (reported in the Scotsman of 23 November). This shows that only 36% of children
born to cohabiting parents are still looked after by both parents - even if they eventually’
marry - by the time the children are 16, compared with 70% of children born to married
couples. Given that children are, on average, likely to suffer permanent disadvantage if their
              t
parents aren’ together while they grow up, and given that putting the welfare of the child
first is the principle adopted in the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, surely it follows that
promotion of marriage should be a policy aim of the Executive? Yet by making divorce
easier and by giving increased rights to cohabitees, marriage would in effect be downgraded
and devalued, with results that will actually harm children.

Conflict in a marriage is of course bad for children, but research (used in the past by the
Westminster Government) shows that divorce causes even more harm to children than
conflict (Exeter Family Study, J Tripp & M Crocket, Univ of Exeter, 1994, pp 55 if). The
study also shows that conflict is made worse by the decision to divorce rather then the
mechanism of divorce. Again, if the welfare of the child is the policy aim, then preserving the
distinctiveness of marriage should be the policy tool.

The paper says that you “do not expect an increase in the overall number of marriages
coming to an end” as a result of the proposals (Paras 4.11; 9.2). but this optimism flies in the
face of the available evidence. The 1976 divorce reforms led to a 65% increase in the divorce
RESPONSE 133 – REV DR ALISTAIR P DONALD


rate within 10 years, and the Australian “no fault” reforms of 1975 led to an increase in the
divorce rate from (1971 to 1981) of 250%! There seems little doubt that the proposals will
lead to a rise in the divorce rate, which will in turn harm children.

Proposal to shorten separation period (para 4.7)

In the light of the foregoing arguments, I have very good reason to oppose your proposal to
cut the separation periods from 2 years to 1 (with consent) and from 5 years to 2 (without
consent).

One fault ground (para 4.8)

I also strongly oppose the proposed abolition of ‘adultery’and ‘desertion’as specific grounds
for divorce. This would send out the message to all that these faults do not matter. I do not
accept that concern about adultery is a “relic from a bygone era.” The two grounds that you
propose to abolish are the only ones that an innocent spouse who is also a Christian can
accept in good conscience as a reason for divorce. I understand that there is also legal
uncertainty as to whether adultery would automatically be considered as ‘       unreasonable
behaviour’by the courts in the future, should your proposals be adopted.

Co-habitation (para 7.1)

The paper may claim that “the Executive does not equate co-habitation and marriage,” but the
proposals on money and property will equate them in every major respect. This will in turn
downgrade and devalue marriage.

May I say in closing that, as someone who is directly involved in pastoral ministry and
counselling, I am only too well aware of what is happening in “the real world” in terms of the
breakdown of family life. I recognise that the proposals commented on above are being set
forth by the Executive with the best of intentions, but they are extremely misguided
nonetheless. Far from resolving the difficulties addressed, the proposals will in fact make
matters worse.

Yours faithfully




(Rev Dr) Alistair P Donald


Copy to: Alex Salmond, MSP

								
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