Tories to make it harder to divorce
Married couples will find it more difficult to get divorced under Conservative plans to strengthen families.
Under the proposals Britain's family laws will be reformed to prevent children whose parents do split up from losing contact with their fathers and grandparents.
Pre-nuptial agreements should also be legally binding and official backing given to marriage preparation classes to encourage more couples to wed.
The recommendations are being drawn up by Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader, who is now David Cameron's expert on social breakdown.
They are expected to be adopted by the Conservatives who tend to look favourably on Mr Duncan's Smith work.
Mr Duncan Smith said that his report was "timely" in the wake of the death of Baby P and other scandals which have highlighted the "chaotic nature" of family life in some parts of the country.
"Today, 25 percent of children in this country live in single parent families and this trend is set to accelerate," he said. "These children are three to six times more likely to experience abuse. A recent US study found that children living with a non-biological adult are 50 times more likely to die from afflicted injuries than those living with their biological parents."
The report, from Mr Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Justice, advocates using the law and other official mechanisms to discourage "informal" relationships. It links rising levels of family breakdown to the increase in cohabitation.
The interim report recommends a series of measures to make marriage more attractive and divorce more difficult. It calls for pre-nuptial agreements - which set out financial and property rights before marrying - to be made legally binding to encourage more people to marry.
It also recommends that divorce settlements should be more "consistent" and that grandparents will have access rights. Absent fathers should also be given better access to their children.
The report recommends the establishment of "family relationship centre", modelled on those found in Australia, which can help separating or divorcing couples.
The review concludes: "Policy can and should be focused on stemming the tide of relationship breakdown. Marriage acts as a stabiliser and a signal. Married couples are far less likely to break up than couples who live together without getting married. This is true even when allowance is made for the influence of factors such as income, age and education. The correlation between stability and marriage is strong and widely acknowledged amongst experts."
The Government has been criticised for considering offering couples legal rights outside of marriage.
The Law Commission, which advises ministers on changes to the law, has called for co-habiting couples to be given a legal right to a financial settlement on separation. The Scottish Government has recently introduced financial safeguards for those who are not married.
The Government has said it will carefully study the impact of the new Scottish system before deciding whether to introduce similar laws in England and Wales.
Today's report vigorously opposes the spread of rights for co-habiting couples which it warns are "not compatible" with encouraging marriage.
Over the past twenty years, the number of births outside marriage has risen sharply from 25 per cent in 1988 to 44 per cent today. About one in four couples now cohabit - compared to just ten per cent in 1988. Some of the poorest areas in Britain have the highest levels of family breakdown in Europe.
Mr Cameron has focussed on drawing attention to what he describes as Britain's "broken society". The Conservative leader has put the family and encouraging marriage at the centre of his attempts to overhaul the image of the party. He has pledged to introduce new tax breaks for married couples.
Mr Cameron is under pressure to abandon the family-friendly policies and focus on his economic strategy. However, Mr Cameron believes that the economic problems could quickly turn into a social meltdown. He is therefore determined to push ahead with plans to improve work-life balance and other policies to help families.
Expert views differ on what the impact of the forthcoming recession is likely to be on families and divorce rates. In previous recessions, divorce rates have increased as families are pulled apart by money problems and unemployment.
However, the divorce rate has recently fallen to the lowest level since 1981 amid claims that people cannot afford to divorce. With many divorcing couples now more educated about their financial rights, experts have said that the sharp fall in house prices may have caused some people to delay their separation.
Lucian Cook, of Savills, a national firm of estate agents, said: "As house prices rise, homeowners undoubtedly feel wealthier and our supposition is that they also feel able to afford to get divorced.
"However, we forecast that the current falls in property prices - unwelcome and uncomfortable for the majority - will result in fewer divorces, even allowing for the overriding downward trend in the UK's divorce rate."
Last night, a spokesman for Mr Cameron said that he welcomed Mr Duncan Smith's research and would carefully study the interim report. The former Conservative leader will present his final recommendations in the spring.