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Dramatic rise in marital breakdown a cause of concern

By Susan Gately - 07 September, 2013

Divorce, SeparationAs many as 5,000 marriages break up each year while marital breakdown is up 500% since 1986 and yet there is an “alarming refusal to acknowledge the problem”, the Iona Institute has said.

David Quinn, Director of the pro marriage and pro religion Iona Institute, was speaking following the release of the report, Marriage Breakdown and Family Structure in Ireland which is based on an analysis of the Census 2011 findings.

The report shows marriage breakdown spiralling with almost a quarter of a million people in Ireland having experienced divorce or separation in 2011 and 21% of first marriages breaking up in Limerick city and almost 20% in Dublin.

Comparing the census figures on cohabitation for 1996 and 2011, the report shows a massive increase in the number of couples cohabiting, up to over 145,000 in 2011 from 31,000 in 1996. There were no figures in the census for cohabiting couples in 1986.

The twenty-five years between 1986 and 2011 have also seen a huge rise in single parent families, up more than 100% to 215,315 in 2011.

The growth in single parent families and cohabiting couples has meant a huge rise in the number of children being raised outside marriage.  

“In absolute terms, 456,661 children were being raised outside marriage in 2011, which is 28.1% of all the children in the same year,” according to the report.

While the number of marriages grew to over 820,000 in 2011, up from almost 635,000 in 1986, married couples now represent a smaller proportion of all family units, down to 70% in 2011 from over 85% in 1986.

David Quinn told CatholicIreland.net he could take no comfort from any of the findings.

“What is behind the figures is an awful lot of human pain and an ever growing number of semi-involved or non-involved fathers,” he said.

Asked if legislation was needed to give unmarried fathers a greater role in their children’s upbringing, Mr Quinn said he was not in favour of automatic guardianship rights for fathers.

“This has been tried in New Zealand, and often it just ends up that fathers take them [guardianship rights] as a right to interfere and get back at a partner.”

However, he said if a father applies to the court for guardianship, he felt there should be a presumption in his favour.

“The court should take it seriously that he [the father] is interested in guardianship,” Mr Quinn said.

Commenting on the report, Professor Patricia Casey said she was particularly concerned about the 300,000 children under 18 being raised by single or cohabiting parents.

“What this highlights is what the changing Irish family in practice means in many cases, namely an ever growing number of children growing up with either a semi-involved or uninvolved father, and a growing number of mothers having to raise their children on their own, or with the help of relatives and friends to compensate for the absent father.”

She said the debate about the changing Irish family was a debate about “how highly we value fatherhood and how we can connect more fathers to their children.”

“Historically, and in every known society, marriage has always been our best way of doing this. Marriage connects children to their fathers more reliably than anything else we know. As marriage weakens in Ireland, so does the connection between father and child,” Professor Casey commented.

The report also highlights the link between marital break-up and poverty.

An American report, For Richer or for Poorer: Marriage as an Anti-poverty Strategy (2002) by Adam Thomas and Isabel V. Sawhill, points out that if the marriage rate in the US was the same in 2001 as it had been in 1970, “the poverty rate would have been 20 to 30 percent lower than its actual 1998 value”.

“This makes it all the more mysterious that we do not do much more as a society to promote marriage,” comments the report.


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