Sir Paul Coleridge: Father, give yourself a Fathers Day present that will last a lifetime!

It’s Fathers Day. If you’re an unmarried father reward yourself with the best Fathers Day present you could ever have – Marry the mother of your child(ren)….. (or at least propose to her). That is a gift which will last a lifetime.

But why?

Because as you, and your unmarried partner, have arranged your lives thus far, you are both running the most enormous risk. Indeed the chances of the risk becoming reality are so great that the odds are stacked more against you than in your favour. The shockingly sad fact is that, as your life is presently arranged, the chances of you still living with your child or his/her mother by the time of their 16th birthday are uncomfortably slim. That is the effect of the uncontroversial statistical data which Marriage Foundation has unearthed in the past few years. Unless you are  married to the mother of your children the odds of you all still being a family unit when your children are 16 are not good.  Surely that is not what you planned when you and your partner decided to have a baby. Is that what you hoped for? I am sure it isn’t.

Let me give you just some of the really shocking numbers. In the UK today just about half the population of 16 year olds is not living with both their birth parents. And that is so whether the parents are married or unmarried. So that means half the fathers of 16 years old are already not seeing their children as they would want and half the sixteen year olds will have experienced the pain of family breakdown by that age. Isn’t that a horrific figure? But, and this is the crunch point, 93% of the fathers who are with their lucky 16 year old children are married to the mother.  In other words if you have not tied the knot and made the commitment you have only a pretty low chance of being with your children when they are 16. And for that matter with their other parent. Seriously worrying?

Let me put it another way. Only two out of ten married parents will split before their child sits his or her GCSEs but seven out of ten unmarried parents of similar children will have done so. Three and a half times as many. In other words it is most unlikely that you will split by the time your children are 16 if you are married. It is at the least highly probable if you are not.

And my experience in the Family Courts for four decades bears this out, day after day, as the fashion for children being born to unmarried parents took hold in the 1980s and since. In the Family Courts we now have a situation where unmarried parents make up 20% of the total cohabiting population but that 20% are responsible for 50% of the work of the family courts. What more do you need to know.

But does any of this matter? Should I care, you ask? Only if you want to do the best you can for your children as I believe we surely all do.  Every survey and piece of research for at least the past ten years bears out that children from intact families do best on every measure (health, education and overall life chances, as the politicians like to call them nowadays). And this month our latest research has even shown that the children of married parents show measurably higher levels of self-esteem and optimism about life. That too adds significantly to their future success in life and surely reflects their greater sense of family security.

But you can do yourself a big favour too because a stable family life (usually found in the married population) is best for your own physical and mental health too. That is also now proven by countless studies by numerous well respected bodies (not just ourselves).

But this is much more than just about statistics. We have had enough of those lately and they can be a turn-off and counter-productive. No, this is about minimising the risk of experiencing the awfulness of family breakdown which one way or another we all seem to have encountered these days. We may not yet have had to deal with it directly in our immediate family but we will surely have done so indirectly in our wider families or at work. We can all think of anecdotes and specific cases. I have many more than most having dealt with these problems day in and day out in the Family Courts. Without doubt about the most difficult cases to resolve (and the most painful too) were where a father (or even a mother) had ended up with a seriously fractured relationship with their beloved child because of the breakdown of the relationship between the parents. The courts are constantly blamed where a child refuses to see a parent and the court seems  powerless to change things but the simple fact is that the underlying cause is ALWAYS the utter breakdown in trust between the two parents which the child had been infected by. This happens day after day and the remedies in the courts are very limited. I have seen grown men leave the court in tears when their children refuse to see them. It is heart-breaking and usually incapable of solution.

Whether we like it or not the stats (which are there for all to see) about this great family breakdown problem are all one way however much we might wish things were otherwise. And married parents always come off best

So on this special day, take out the best insurance yet discovered against losing contact with your children as they grow up; marry their mother. Don’t increase the risk of becoming a mere weekend contact dad. And having married her really invest in that relationship so that it lasts. Everyone will be the winner, you, your partner but especially your children. Make the commitment, take the plunge!

Happy Fathers day.

Sir Paul Coleridge

Chairman and founder of Marriage Foundation

Family High Court Judge 2000 -2014

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