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Last Updated: Monday, 5 December 2005, 17:31 GMT
Marriage 'downgraded' says judge
Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss
Dame Elizabeth said marriage was "not sufficiently trumpeted"
Marriage is being "downgraded" by government policies, a former High Court judge has warned.

In a speech on Monday, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss said the loss of tax perks meant there was no financial incentive to marry or stay married.

She said the lack of financial help was "a wasted opportunity" to support an "undervalued" section of the public.

Her comments came as religious groups warned civil partnerships, which became law on Monday, may undermine marriage.

Until her retirement in April, Dame Elizabeth was in charge of the High Court's Family Division where she oversaw some of the UK's most high-profile divorce cases.

Delivering the Bar Council lecture in central London on Monday, she said growing divorce levels should concern the whole of society because they could affect the wider community and even the economy.

'Legal pitfalls'

"This outcome which contributes to the downgrading of the status of marriage is particularly sad since the statistics show that marriage remains the most stable of all relationships between men and women, even with the incidence of divorce," Dame Elizabeth said.

The advantages of marriage were now "not sufficiently trumpeted", she added.

Statistics released in August showed the total number of divorces in the UK during 2004 increased slightly compared to 2003 to reach just over 167,000.

Dame Elizabeth also criticised the exclusion of heterosexual couples from civil partnerships ceremonies which give legal recognition to the relationships of homosexual couples.

"There are many cohabiting couples who have no idea of the legal pitfalls if they separate acrimoniously or die without making proper provision for the other partner, " she said.


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