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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 May, 2005, 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
Family bill under Catholic attack
Wedding rings
The Catholic Church says the bill will weaken the concept of marriage
The Catholic Church has told MSPs that plans to reform family law will weaken the concept of marriage in Scotland.

It made the claim at a meeting of the justice 1 committee as it took evidence on the Family Law (Scotland) Bill.

Plans to speed up divorces and give greater rights to co-habiting couples would only weaken marriage, the Catholic Church told MSPs.

The Church of Scotland said it would want to encourage people to wed without offering them "bribes".

The Scottish Executive's proposed bill plans to reduce the minimum period couples must live apart before a divorce is granted on "non-co-habitation" grounds.

Marriage guidance

It would reduce it from two years to one in uncontested cases and from five to two years when the divorce is contested.

There were 10,928 Scottish divorces in 2003 and of these 82% were based on length of separation (non-co-habitation) and the remainder were sought on fault grounds (adultery, unreasonable behaviour and desertion).

The legislation would offer new legal safeguards to co-habiting couples on ownership of household goods, money and property, allowing financial provision in the event of a separation or death.

The new bill would also give full parental rights and responsibilities to unwed parents registered on the child's birth certificate.

Ministers say the law, which also gives new parental rights and responsibilities (PRRs) to unmarried fathers, will put children first and prevent children becoming "pawns" between estranged couples.

Moderator of the Church of Scotland Dr Alison Elliot
Dr Alison Elliot wants the bill to encourage marriages with integrity

However, the Catholic Church's parliamentary officer John Deighan told the committee marriage should be promoted by the bill to help "keep families together".

He said the five-year period for no-fault divorces was a recognition that marriage was meant to be a permanent commitment - and with 16% of divorce proceedings dropped annually, it also enabled reconciliation.

He added: "The main (legal) effect of divorce is to allow people to remarry and do we really want to see people who've just had one failed marriage to go straight into another one?"

Meanwhile, the Moderator of the Church of Scotland General Assembly, Dr Alison Elliot, said that while she would want to encourage marriage, "bribery" should not be used.

Bribery route

Dr Elliot said: "What I mean by encouraging marriage is giving support to people who are contemplating getting married so they make that decision with integrity.

"I don't believe in incentives to make people marry or to encourage people to marry. The incentive route is a bribery route, it's not the way to ensure healthy marriages."

Reverend Alan Paterson of the United Reformed Church also backed the change.

He said: "Five years, if you're nine-years-old is most of your life and most of your memory, and to reduce the amount of conflict that the children are witness to I think is important."

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