Second marriages and prenuptial agreements have been one of the most recent storylines of The Archers. Through the trials and tribulations in the relationship between Lillian and Justin the BBC radio show has cast its light on 21st century family life from the comfort of fictional Ambridge.
The office for National Statistics has recently reported that cohabitating couples are the fastest growing family type. Apparently, it is now the second largest family type and has doubled its figures from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million families in 2017. The explanation, I presume is that these days people are choosing to cohabit instead of marrying or at least to cohabit before marriage but I wonder why that is the increasing trend. Is it that people are afraid of marriage these days? Is it that living together before marriage is not frowned upon as much as it used to be and well… its just easier?
With a new Government in place, albeit one preoccupied with Brexit and unforeseen tragic events, is now the time to put more emphasis on equality in family law? We have marriage and civil partnerships for same sex couples, but what about the rights of cohabiting couples, and the rights of heterosexual couples to have a civil partnership instead of getting married?
As a family lawyer, I am rarely involved at the start of a relationship when all is going well and people are considering moving in together. Instead, my involvement arises at the point the relationship is breaking down or has broken down. For clients who are not married, one of the first things I often have to do is obtain from the land registry a copy of the transfer deed they signed when they purchased the property. Unfortunately, this is when many people have an unpleasant surprise when I explain that this document is going to be of paramount importance in determining how much of the property they are entitled to receive now they are separating.
In January of this year, a heterosexual couple lost their court case in which they argued that opposite-sex couples are being subjected to discrimination as, unlike same-sex couples, they do not have the choice to enter into a civil partnership instead of marriage.
At present, same sex couples who wish to formalise their relationship and thereby obtain a legal status entitling them to financial protection and benefits, can choose between civil partnership or marriage. Heterosexual couples need to marry in order to obtain that same financial protection.