Written evidence submitted by Patrick Pullicino [HAB0058]
I am a father of six children who has been happily married for twenty years. I am also a pastor in a parish in London and come into contact with many parishioners who cohabit. I also meet those couples who decide to get married in marriage preparation classes. I am very concerned about the vulnerability of children in cohabitation situations and this is why I am submitting this. I know how instability in a life negatively affects childrens’ development, and how devastating loss of a parent is. It has been found that loss of a parent in marriage breakup is the most serious of negative effects on the development of children. Any legislation therefore has to put children directly at its centre. Legislation should give priority to protecting children of cohabiting couples and give the parents incentives to marry.
Cohabitation is in many situations entered into to avoid the legal and social strictures of marriage. To give a legal definition of it makes it like marriage and would go against the freedom that the individuals seek in cohabiting. Their decisions would no longer be unpremeditated. The government should not trespass into the personal life of individuals in this way.
By virtue of wanting to cohabit rather than marry, cohabitees want to be able to separate without any legal or financial repercussions. To legislate would be like putting a permanent cctv on their lives.
To give the same legal protection to cohabitees as to married couples would have serious equality issues versus marriage. It would force equality with marriage that is an institution that strongly protects and nurtures the future adults of this society. It would devalue the safety and protection of marriage and have a negative effect on society. Children of cohabiting parents are three times as likely to loose a parent by the age of 5 than those with married parents. This is a major equality issue that can only be addressed by creating legal disincentives to cohabitation.
The fact that over 50% of children under five experience the separation of their cohabiting parents shows that the only real protection for these children is to create legal disincentives for cohabitation. Children under five are three times as likely to loose a parent if their parents are cohabiting than married.
Particularly for the reason of the vulnerability of children of cohabitees to give the parents the same rights as if they were married is an assault on the voiceless children of these relationships.