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Archbishop wants to tax divorcees

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Controversial Catholic Archbishop George Pell has called for an end to Australia's no-fault divorce system and is proposing a tax on divorcees with children.

The divorce tax proposal by Sydney's archbishop has sparked widespread condemnation from politicians and marriage groups.

The Australian Federal Government said divorce already imposes an emotional strain and an added financial strain was not a good idea.

The Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, Alistair Nicholson has described the Archbishop's proposal as tragic.

"The suggestion of re-introducing fault is a very retrograde suggestion, and one that anyone who had any experience of the system, as it operated under fault, wouldn't have made," he told a radio station.

He added the idea of taxing people on marriage break-ups was "extraordinary".

"It's a terribly difficult time for people. People don't just walk out of marriages. It's expensive for all of them. And I just think that the concept of making it more expensive is almost tragic."

"One of the things I suggested was that for every year, for example, that a family stayed together with children under 18, there might be some sort of small tax benefit," Pell told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Divorce too easy

"Another possibility I canvassed was for those couples which did divorce, that there might be a slight increase in tax to pay for the financial and social costs which unfortunately and sadly often follow from broken families," he said.

"The whole intention is to focus attention on the enormous benefits that the family brings."

Pell said the current system made it too easy for couples to separate.

In response to the widespread criticism of his proposal he said it had obviously touched a raw nerve.

Figures show divorce rate is down

Figures released on Friday from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show over the last 10 years the number of children involved in divorce has increased.

In 1988, 44,400 children aged less than 18 years were involved in divorce. By 1998 this number had increased to 51,600 children.

In 1998, 51,400 divorces were granted in Australia, this is down slightly on the previous year.

The Web site says divorce rate has fluctuated over the past years, 2.8 per 1,000 population in 1978, declined to 2.4 in 1987, rose to 2.9 in 1996, and declined in the following two years to reach 2.7 per 1,000 population in 1998.

The divorce rate in Australia is lower than in the United States of America -- reported as 4.3 in 1996.

The number of marriages has also increased slightly, from 5.8 marriages per 1,000 in 1997 to 5.9 per 1,000 in 1998.

• Australian Bureau of Statistics

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