Earlier this week The Times reported a debate on divorce and marriage, under the headline, How to make a painful process kinder for all, part of a debate which largely ignores those most likely to suffer when relationships between adults break down: their children. However, Rod Liddle did chime in with some common sense when he said: “What we really need is a law which makes us think a bit more before getting married and having children.”
With fewer and fewer parents having a marriage contract to sustain, and with the likelihood of yet easier divorce, any notion of a contract between two parties regarding the nurture and care for their offspring will be eroded and is likely to leave even more children in unhappy circumstances.
Raising children takes twenty years and during that time there is a moral imperative surely, not only for each parent to take responsibility for their children and to care for them, but also to support and care for the other parent, to sustain that partner as part of their responsibility to their children.
We should consider a law that imposed a contract between the parents upon the birth of a child, a contract which obliged the parents to care for one another in this way. Where either party is known to have abandoned, neglected or harmed a child of theirs, or has mistreated a child’s other parent, then we should ask whether such a person should be allowed to inflict themselves on another child as a parent. The child could be adopted and those breeders who have left others to cope with their child might make some sort of contribution to the expense caused thereby.
Should relationships then break down later in the life of a child then more consideration should be given to the interests of the child. For example, the departing parent could be required to live within walking distance of the child’s home so as to be available as and when the child wants to see them, as well as continuing to share responsibilities for the child and the other parent.
Child-bearing has not been an automatic consequence of cohabitation for several generations. It should not be difficult nowadays to concentrate the minds of potential parents who would more readily ensure that children are not brought into this world in a casual fashion and in circumstances that will handicap them from birth.