Friday, 13 March 2009


Resolution is backing calls to bring family law into line with the needs of modern families and is supporting leading lawmaker Lord Lester’s Bill on cohabitation, which is debated in Parliament today. Lord Lester’s Cohabitation Bill aims to ensure that both cohabitants are treated fairly when they split up and to provide a safety net for vulnerable people. It gives legal rights to cohabitants who have shown commitment to each other without undermining marriage or civil partnership or freedom of choice. The Cohabitation Bill represents the third time in a decade that Lord Lester has stepped in to modernise family law. His Civil Partnership Bill 2002 was the predecessor to the government’s Civil Partnership Act 2004, and his Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill was passed into law with the support of the Government in 2007.

Family law on cohabitation is completely out of step with modern family life. Cohabitation is the fastest growing family type in the UK and marriage rates are plummeting. But couples who live together have no legal protection, regardless of the length of their relationship or whether they have children together.
Despite this, over fifty percent of people still falsely believe cohabitants are protected by ‘common law marriage’. It’s a disgrace in modern times that families across the country are still left at risk of serious financial hardship if the relationship ends or if a partner dies.

Lord Lester’s Cohabitation Bill, which will be debated in the House of Lords today, aims to give legal rights to cohabitants who have been living together for at least two years, or who have a child together. Couples will have the right to opt out of the scheme if they choose to.

Despite widespread popular support for reform, with almost nine out of ten people backing the right for cohabitants to make financial claims on the breakdown of a relationship or death of a partner, progress on this issue has been slow in Parliament. Now Lord Lester’s Bill will bring hope to millions of cohabitants across the country.

Lord Lester has said: “My Bill represents a new opportunity to deal effectively with this issue, and I am hopeful that the government and parliament will support it to prevent more and more people and their children from being faced with poverty and hardship in these troubling economic times.”

Families come in all shapes and sizes. At a time of recession, families need financial security through laws that protect them, whether they have opted for marriage or not.


Nick Gulliford said...

You write: "Family law on cohabitation is completely out of step with modern family life. Cohabitation is the fastest growing family type in the UK and marriage rates are plummeting."

This may be true, but as Michael Gove writes in "Who says the decline of marriage is bad for us all? I do":

"if no one points out the consequences of the marginalisation of marriage, then some of the most vulnerable in our society will be voiceless. For the drift away from marital commitment is part of a broader flight from responsibility which is weakening our society and hitting the poorest, hardest. Marriage is a constraint, it is a restriction on freedom, a corset or corral in which passions which would otherwise run free are subject to disciplines, and personal satisfaction is subordinated to social expectations. But the reason marriage imposes those constraints is to ensure that selfish adults, especially pleasure-seeking males, are placed within a structure which forces them to live up to their responsibilities towards the next generation. A society which expects men to stay married to the mother of their children is a society which places a premium on providing young boys with male role models who embody the virtues of responsibility, restraint and consideration for others. Children become mature when they grasp the principle of deferred gratification, the idea that greater prizes accrue to those who are prepared to work, wait and share than to those who wish to eat, shoot and leave. When adults behave like children, seeking instant gratification of their desires, abandoning relationships which no longer serve their purposes in pursuit of new, more intense, pleasure they leave children in their wake who have been deprived of the most valuable of inheritances – stability and security in which to grow to maturity."

Like so many in your profession who profit from family dissolution you are - effectively - advocating serial 'guest stepfathering', promiscuity and domestic violence.

Lord Lester's Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill omitted specific guidance towards marriage preparation. I suggested additional clauses should be added to section 2 of the draft Bill concerning 'guidance', which started with 2 (a) the difference between arranged and forced marriage:

"(e) the opportunities and advantages for the parties to participate together in a research-based educational programme of marriage preparation - including an assessment tool or pre-marital inventory that meets international standards.

(f) this programme is to assist them in preparing for a healthy marriage and to confirm to the Registrar or deputy Registrar the voluntary nature of their commitment to the marriage, and protect themselves and each other against any possible accusations about the marriage being one that is forced or bogus."

Despite what Ruth Kelly said in 2002:

"In our White Paper, [Delivering Vital Change] the Government explained that the registration service is ideally placed to act as a focal point for information about services associated with births, deaths and marriages, such as ........ marriage preparation ...... I believe that there is a genuine opportunity for local authorities to develop those services innovatively to meet the needs of their communities, now and in future. A wider role for the registration service will improve on the current piecemeal approach by local authorities and will be underpinned by the proposed national standards" nothing was done to in the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill to promote good marital relationships and no preventative measures were inserted that would reduce the possibility of coercion, merely remedies if it did.

On 30th September 2008 at the Conservative Party conference, Maria Miller MP, Shadow Minister for the Family, one of Michael Gove's team, announced a new policy:

"Most young couples now get married in a civil ceremony. Unlike a church wedding, there is no tradition of pre-marriage preparation for couples marrying at a registry office. We want that to change. We want local registrars to start signposting couples to pre-marital education as a matter of routine. The Local Government Association who co-ordinate the role of wedding registrars, agree and I am pleased to say that they [are] putting forward this policy so that every young couple getting married will be made aware of the benefits they would get from relationship support at this critical point in their life. In the US, couples who have this type of pre-marriage education are a third less likely to divorce. We want this type of support for couples to be routine in Britain too."

If that translates into a programme which local authorities actually implement, it may start to turn the tide.

But what you are advocating is the 'every choice of lifestyle' agenda, the politics of despair.

Judith said...

Nick I object to you suggesting that I am advocating anything other than a law to help vulnerable people. The reality is that society has changed dramatically over the last 30 years. Cohabitation is the fastest growing family type in the UK, with one in six couples currently cohabiting. This is expected to rise to one in four over the next two decades. At the same time, the numbers of marriages in England and Wales have fallen to their lowest level since 1895, and the numbers of children born outside of marriage increased to 43.5 percent in 2006.
There are a number of reasons why increasing numbers of couples don’t marry in the UK including
• Some couples wrongly think they are protected as common law husband and wife and choose not to marry on that basis
• Sometimes one half of a couple wants to marry but the other one does not
• Some couples do not want the state to sanction their relationship
• Increasing numbers of couples live together for many years before getting married – but may still be vulnerable before they eventually do marry. Even if they are engaged or intend to marry they have no legal status, and unexpected circumstances such as death or relationship breakdown can come at any time.
The bill is not intended to put cohabitants on the same legal footing as people who divorce. Instead:
1. The Bill will only apply to couples who have lived together for two years or who have had
a child together
2. A former cohabitant will have to make their claim within two years
3. The fact that a couple chose not to marry/ enter into a civil partnership will be taken into
4. There will be a strong emphasis on each partner becoming financially independent as
quickly as possible and claims will be limited to reasonable needs
5. Maintenance payments, if appropriate, will usually only be available for a maximum
period of three years

Nick Gulliford said...

The fact of the matter is, Judith, as I said, "... nothing was done to in the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill to promote good marital relationships and no preventative measures were inserted that would reduce the possibility of coercion, merely remedies if it did." And nothing you are proposing now is an improvement.