t’s “divorce day”, the first working Monday after Christmas, customarily thebusiest time of the year for family lawyers. In this age of constant contact, there’s been a modest surge in people seeking advice between Christmas and New Year, but for most, Twelfth Nisi is today (a half-pun for those who have already begun their divorce). If you’re married, there is a one in five chance you’re considering a split (according to a survey by legal firm Irwin Mitchell); it sounds improbably large, but there it is. If it’s not you, it’s probably him; check his phone, that’s how all the best divorces start.
Sir Paul Coleridge, a former high court judge, runs the Marriage Foundation, a charity that encourages getting and staying married. He told the Sunday Times, as part of a marriage-promotion drive in the lead-up to D-Day, of a case he’d seen: “She was the long-term girlfriend of a very high-profile celebrity person by whom she had had no fewer than four children. It was looking as if it was going to come unstuck, and she wanted to talk to me informally about what her position was. She said, ‘We’ll no doubt need an hour or two.’ I said, ‘We’ll need a minute or two because the answer is very simple: you have no rights.’”
Many people – in the 18-34 age group, almost half – believe that “common law” marriage actually comes with rights attached; that cohabiting couples with children have the same access to each other’s incomes, in the event of a split, as married ones do. This is untrue, though the “no ring, no rights” rallying cry of the marriage lobby is a bit of an overstatement (maintenance obligations obviously exist for the non-resident parent, whether previously married or not). This can prove disastrous for the main carer, who is unlikely to be the higher earner and, labouring under an illusion of legal protection, may have made no attempt to shield their finances from the hit of parenthood.