Belfast Telegraph

Divorce not the issue, it's lack of people who want to marry

By Janet Street-Porter

Baroness Deech certainly has a low opinion of women here. She says our divorce laws send a clear message that once you get married, "you need never go out to work", adding: "Never mind about A-Levels or a degree, or taking the Bar course… come out and find a footballer." She wants pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements to be legally binding and is steering a Bill through the House of Lords.

Britain has become the divorce capital of the world for wealthy women because the starting point for splitting assets in the event of marital breakdown is 50/50, even if the wife has never worked and may even be to blame for the split.

Our divorce laws urgently need reforming, but I hardly think most young women leave school and put "marrying a Premier League player or an oligarch" down as their goal in life.

When they leave school and start further education, girls are far more motivated than young men. Yes, there are silly girls who do want to s**g a footballer, but most successful players are no fools either.

I would have thought the modern problem is not divorce, but the lack of people who want to get married in the first place. The most urgent area for the legal profession to focus on is the lack of protection for men and women who split up after living together.

The law in this area is a mess. Children and assets can only be divided after costly legal action. Marriage is going out of fashion, but we haven't found a way to protect people who decide they don't want to formalise their relationship. I am not a traditionalist and I believe marriage won't save a rotten relationship, but it does give you a legal framework if things go wrong.

I've been divorced four times and none was messy or expensive. With one exception, we were soon friends again. Marriage is civilising - and I'm glad that gay couples can now have that protection in law, too. As for making pre-nuptial agreements legally binding, if you're dumb enough to sign one, then that's all you deserve to get. Most women want to make the most of their lives on their own terms, not as a by-product of a bloke.

• I spent the Christmas break in Australia, where sexism is alive and well. Prime Minister Tony Abbott caused outrage last week when he was asked to name his greatest achievement, considering he's not only Prime Minister but also Minister for Women. He replied that it was the abolition of a carbon tax introduced by his predecessor Julia Gillard, commenting that "as many of us know, women are particularly focused on the household budget… and repealing the tax means a A$550 (£287) benefit for the average family".

Abbott's emphasis on the traditional family might play well on the right, but it goes down like a cup of cold sick with most women. Almost half the population thinks the Australian Government is dragging its feet over equal opportunities, and Abbott has only just increased the number of women in his Cabinet from one to three.

In remote northern New South Wales, where I recently went, I did encounter a couple of antedeluvian types. When I told one chap I'd just caught a decent sized flathead (a delicious fish, which put up a spirited fight), he inquired: "Who skinned and filleted it?" The best thing about fishing alone is that you start a lot of conversations with total strangers, usually about the merits of pilchards versus prawns as bait. My favourite Christmas present was half a bream, complete with guts, from another hopeful on the shore.

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