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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

Clegg and Duncan-Smith at odds over families

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Marriage Week UK ended on Valentine’s Day. I understand this was deliberate and simply a quirk of the calendar with the most romantic day of the year falling on a Monday. Slightly ironic though. Would it not have been better to start Marriage Week on February 14?!

The week celebrates commitment and the importance of marriage. The notion should be applauded. It is perhaps though unfortunate that the event, apparently running since 1997, is not more high profile so as to have a real impact.

As the campaign’s website says: “Marriage remains incredibly popular – over 90% of young people in the UK aspire to be married at some point in the future, and the large majority will achieve this. Although the popular view is that marriages don’t last, two out of every three first marriages will last until one partner dies, and one in two second or subsequent marriages will also last a lifetime.”

Impressive statistics in an age when marriage can at times appear a little old hat.

The week did give an opportunity for Iain Duncan-Smith, Work and Pensions Secretary, to reaffirm the Government’s apparently long-term commitment to helping married couples through the tax system. Effectively, tax breaks if a couple is married. The idea is to give additional incentive for couples to marry rather than sticking with the growing trend of the last 20 years to simply live together. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that, but encouraging marriage I would see as a good thing – and that’s not because more than one in three still end in divorce, essentially creating business for firms like mine. I have said it before and I will repeat it now – I would much rather there was no need for divorce lawyers.

Mr Duncan-Smith also made some interesting comments about the current “crazy” benefits system in Britain which makes it more financially beneficial for couples if they do not tell anyone they are a couple, allowing them to claim single person benefits. This, he says, encourages some of the most disadvantaged in society to commit fraud claiming they are living alone when in fact they are co-habiting. Again, he committed to addressing this issue.

I am still waiting to hear what Deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg has to say in response though. The assertions seem to be directly at odds with Mr Clegg’s previous statement that supporting the institution of marriage to the detriment of couples choosing to live together was ‘finger wagging’.

Giving unmarried couples the same rights as married couples is a topic I blogged about last week so I won’t cover the same ground again. Wound up in this inevitably are the financial considerations. Treating them as a separate issue would be bizarre.

It is important though that clear and co-ordinated messages are being sent out to people. To that end, is it not possible to ensure that those who want to get married do get some tangible incentive to do so in the form of tax relief while, at the same time, furnishing co-habiting couples with some of the same legal rights and responsibilities as those who walk up the aisle? The two are not mutually exclusive.

Andrew Woolley
Family Solicitor

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