In the year when we are commemorating the centenary of the extension of the franchise to women – though only to some women – it is perhaps useful to start what I have to say by looking at the state of English family law a 100 years ago. It was, in truth, scarcely changed from the legacy bequeathed by the Victorians to the Edwardians.
Victorian family law was founded on three great pillars.
First, it went without saying that the basis of the family was a marriage that was Christian (or if not Christian, then its secular or other religious equivalent) and, at least in theory, lifelong. Thus, Sir James Wilde’s famous definition of marriage in Hyde v Hyde: “I conceive that marriage, as understood in Christendom, may for this purpose be defined as the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.”