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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
"REV DR ALISTAIR P DONALD The Manse_ New Deer_ Aberdeenshire_ AB53 "