FURY AS DIVORCE IS MADE EASIER; Plans Will Undermine Marriage, Warn Family Campaigners
Byline: IAN SMITH
SCOTTISH divorce rates ' will rocket' under new plans to speed up the legal process for separations.
And family values campaigners also warned that changes for 'quickie divorces' would undermine the institution of marriage.
Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson provoked a furious reaction from critics, who claimed the Scottish Executive proposals will encourage divorce.
Scotland's divorce rate is lower than that in England because the divorce laws north of the Border have traditionally been tougher.
In 2001, 13 out of every 1,000 marriages in England ended in divorce, while in Scotland the figure was ten in 1,000.
Under the Scottish Executive's plans, the separation period for an uncontested divorce will be slashed from two years to one, while the time for contested divorces will be reduced from five years to two.
Cohabiting couples who split up will be able to go to court if there is disagreement over dividing the assets. And unmarried fathers who register the birth of their child with the mother would be given full parental rights. At present, only the mother has such rights.
But pro-marriage campaigners yesterday warned that the 'quickie divorce' proposals would see Scottish divorce rates catch up with those south of the Border.
Colin Hart, of the charity Christian Institute, said: 'Relative to England, Scotland has had lower rates of divorce because of the divorce laws.
'Plans to make it easier to get a divorce are bound to change that, and we are certain to see the number in Scotland rising to the same rate, or even higher, than in England.' The divorce plans were unveiled in a 60-page Scottish Executive document entitled Family Matters - Improving Family Law in Scotland.
The Executive has been trying to force through these radical reforms since 1999 and has consistently come up against opposition.
But yesterday Mrs Jamieson defended the proposals, saying there were about 200,000 unmarried couples living together with one or more children and that the measures reflected changes in modern lifestyles.
'The status quo is not an option where so many children are left with families without proper legal safeguards,' she said.
The changes were aimed at protecting children who, she claimed, are often used as pawns in acrimonious break-ups.
She said: 'I want to see the law protect the vulnerable. I want the law to recognise that children are better protected when the adults around them have greater rights and responsibilities for them.
'There is nothing more distressing as far as children are concerned than being the pawns in a relationship that breaks down.
'Children need, and deserve, the love and support of both parents in these situations, irrespective of what the parents then do when they move on with their life.' Mrs Jamieson was adamant the proposals did not attack the sanctity of marriage. She said: 'Some will see any change to the law in this area as a defeat for traditional values. They should not, for the reforms are based around a principle that is central to everything we stand for as a country and as a society - the best interests of children. …