Except it’s not every family, is it

The Tories’ patronising obsession with dictating the terms of the voting public’s relationships continues – a Tory think-tank report is calling for a compulsory three-month cooling off period in divorce cases, because apparently couples can’t decide for themselves if they really do want to split up. (No word on whether this would apply to civil partnerships.)

The amusingly inaccurately named report by Iain Duncan Smith is called Every Family Matters. It looks very likely to at least strongly influence Conservative party policy if they get into power next election, or, as Penny Red puts it, Torygeddon. We already knew this was in the works, but this confirms some of the detail.

It’s sort of darkly funny to me that the Conservatives so often call upon the notion of the ‘nanny state’ to dismiss the silly idea of providing useful services, but think they know better than adult Britons what sort of relationship is best for them, and of course they know better what women should do with our own bodies.

It is patronising, like family lawyer Sandra Sinclair is quoted as saying in the Liverpool Post, where she injects a healthy dose of realism:

Ms Sinclair said: “This is not a well-thought-through proposal. There is already in place by law a compulsory period of one year from the date of the marriage before divorce proceedings can be instigated.

“This is typical of a potential paternalistic Executive which is completely out of touch with reality if they believe that separating couples take the decision to divorce lightly.

“For the vast majority of couples, it is the hardest decision for them to make, usually taken after months of excruciating and careful thought, sometimes associated with prolonged misery.

“This report and proposal is paternalistic and deeply patronising – couples should be free to make their own choices when it is right for them.”

Via Penny Red, this piece by Johann Hari goes over the evidence:

Professor Kelly Musick and Dr Ann Meier of Cornell University have carried out a study of children whose parents stay together for the sake of the kids. We all know some: parents who can’t stand each other, but have made a hard-headed decision to stay together nonetheless. They are exactly the kind of people who would be glued back together by Cameron’s policies if they succeeded in their goal.

It turns out their children do worse than any other group – including those of divorcees or single mums. If you are raised by arguing parents who stayed together only for you, then you are 33 percent more likely to become a binge-drinking teen than if you have a single parent, for example.

Having parents locked in live-in combat damages children more than having separated parents, or just one single parent – and the damage lasts well into adulthood. The offspring are more likely to have bad marriages themselves, and more likely to have children at a very young age.

It makes sense. Would Jimmy rather have a happy mum and dad who live apart, or depressed, stressed, angry parents sharing a bed?

So Cameron’s first glance at the figures turns out, then, to be wrong. He was comparing divorcees and single parents to happy two-parent families who want to stick together. But happy two parent families who want to stick together are not what his policy would create. If he had an effect at all, he would be tying together miserable couples who would otherwise have split. To assume you would get the same sociological outcomes from them is an Enron-style accounting error.