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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law 

What is a “traditional” family?


What is a proper family? Traditionally, the definition appears to have been married heterosexual parents with two or more children. I am not sure I would necessarily agree that is exactly right, but it will do for now. But where does that sit in 21st Century society?

A new survey suggests fewer than a fifth of people believe they belong to a traditional family, with many believing their home circumstances are not represented by politicians or the media, while 77% believe single parents can be a family and 59% believe same sex couples can be a family. However, a third do not consider same sex couples and unmarried couples as being a real family.

The findings come from a survey of 3,000 people for The Centre for the Modern Family, launched by insurance firm Scottish Widows. It raises some interesting issues, not just about what we accept as a family but also how our society and legal structure has not moved with the times and is still based on perceptions and presumptions from years ago that are simply not relevant today.

In family law, this issue manifests itself in a number of ways. Perhaps the most recent to hit the news is the continuing debate over rights for unmarried couples. The Kernott versus Jones case highlighted a few weeks ago showed how ill-equipped the law was to deal with division of assets if a couple have decided not to marry and so adopt the legal rights and responsibilities that come with that.

There is also the issue of “marriage” for same sex couples. At the moment they can be joined in civil partnership which has similar rights to being married but there is a growing clamour to remove the distinction and simply allow them to marry in the same way as a heterosexual couple.

Surely family is more about the time and environment you share with your nearest and dearest, whether there is a man, woman and 2.4 children, or some other combination. Whatever you believe though, with so many people apparently living in “non traditional” families, should we not look at how family law should be updated to take these arrangements into consideration?

Andrew Woolley
Family solicitor

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