Yesterday, the Telegraph published an article saying that the coalition government are to announce plans to charge couples with children a fee to sort out their child maintenance arrangements in the event of a split. They would be "levelled at the end of a process of mediation when the state stepped in to "police" maintenance payments and child access arrangements", in an effort to "act as a deterrent and help convince parents that splitting up should be an option of last resort when all other avenues had been taken".
According to Maria Miller, the junior minister at the Department for Work and Pensions, ""Marriage provides a sort of stable framework for our lives and, with the evidence right in front of us, it is madness not to support marriage".
I find this proposal both abhorrent and repulsive, for several reasons.
Firstly, I would like to explain my personal opinion on marriage. Call me a cynic, but I believe that marriage is an archaic instituion, and I don't believe that anyone can truly state that they will be happy with the same person for the rest of their lives. To those it works out for, great - but I don't believe this is true for the majority of people. This does not mean that I actively oppose marriage or promote divorce, but I believe that people shouldn't be castigated or penalised just because a relationship didn't work out. My parents married when I was five, and my sister three, because of the previous Tory government's tax breaks for married couples (no, really), and divorced when I was 11. I was never tremendously sad about this, as my parents are both wonderful people, but not suited to be in a relationship with each other. They were both clearly happier without each other than together, and this improved our home environment tremendously - something which I feel would be true for many other children of divorce.
One of the 'justifications' for this repugnant charge put forward by Mrs Miller is that "[m]ore than nine out of ten 15-year-olds want to get married at some point in their lives. The Conservative Party unashamedly supports families, unashamedly supports marriage and this is what people aspire to and the Conservative Party have always been the party of aspiration". I'm going to ignore the part about the Tory Party being one of aspiration while unabashedly reducing opportunities for all, it's too easy. To use the fact that nine out of ten 15-year-olds say that they want to get married at some point as a justification for charging parents to split up is ludicrous - nine out of ten 15-year-olds saying that they want to get married at some point is not the same thing as nine out of ten 15-year-olds believe that marriage is forever and would never consider divorce.
Another point to consider is that "[t]he proposals are likely to be popular among Conservative right wingers who want David Cameron to make coalition policies much more specifically pro-family". These are exactly the kind of hypocritical idiots who abhor the so-called 'Nanny State'. Now, if trying to convince people to stay in loveless marriages because you think it's 'proper' isn't an example of the Nanny State, I don't know what is. How utterly galling of the government to put themselves in charge of being responsible for convincing couples to stay together.
The implication of this policy, and overt statement by the 'coalition source', that people divorce on a whim, and not as a last resort is as absolutely ridiculous as it is patronising. The agony couples go through before deciding to divorce is immense, and it is shameful for the government to believe otherwise.
Finally, my immediate thought upon reading this proposal was with victims of abusive relationships. To force abusee's who have escaped with their children to have to pay in order to receive money from their ex-partner is nothing less than sickening, and yet another example of the government failing to side with the most vulnerable in society.
I would like to conclude this by quoting a friend of mine, who, upon hearing of the proposals, said: "Something so unfair and so cruel can only have been the product of a late night drunken bet - 'Let's see what else we can get away with under the pretence of reducing the debt - it's OK, Clegg will get the blame anyway'". I'm inclined to agree.