Marriages In The Modern World – A Thing Of The Past?


The Law Of… modernising the concept of marriage

The case of Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan triggered a nationwide debate on the concept of marriage, and whether it fits in with the needs and values of couples in a modern society.

Is the idea of marriage incompatible with modern relationships, where couples might not necessarily identify with the traditional construct of marriage or want more flexibility?

Jenine Abdo, Solicitor in Family Law, investigates.

Civil Partnerships For Opposite-Sex Couples?

Back in 2014, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan decided that they wanted to enter into a civil partnership, rather than get married. But, they were denied the opportunity due to the restrictions of the current law, which prevents opposite-sex couples from entering into civil partnerships.

Unhappy with the decision and believing that "full relationship equality" should be accessible to all couples, they decided to launch a legal challenge against the law in the High Court. Although the Court ruled that the ban on civil partnerships for opposite-sex couples was legal, the judge suggested that as other couples might see the ruling as unfair and the case raised "issues of wide public importance", it should be reviewed by a higher court.

Rebecca and Charles decided to take their case to the Court of Appeal, where in February 3 judges ruled that the Government should be given more time to review the law. Even though they didn’t get the result that they had hoped for, Rebecca and Charles are considering taking their challenge to the Supreme Court on the basis that the law is discriminatory, if the Government fails to address the issue.

Is Marriage An Outdated Concept?

Describing why the idea of being in a civil partnership was so appealing, Rebecca and Charles said it's "a modern social institution" that has "almost identical legal rights and responsibilities as marriage, but without its historical baggage, gendered provisions and social expectations."

Statistics prove that they're not necessarily alone in their views on relationships in the modern age.

Since 1996, the number of opposite-sex cohabiting couples – including those who have children – in the UK has more than doubled from 1,459 to 3,172 according to the Office for National Statistics.

This has been the fastest growing family type in the UK over the past 20 years, with many couples choosing this as a step before either committing to a marriage or as an alternative to a marriage.

Cohabiting Couples

There are many reasons why more couples are choosing to live together rather than getting married or becoming civil partners:

  • It's a useful way for couples to test out what it would be like to be married or in a long-term commitment in the future
  • Some couples might want to be more financially stable or have finished their education before making a formal commitment to each other
  • Not everyone believes that it's necessary to be married to have their own family unit

Whilst it's true that cohabiting partners don't have the same rights as married couples or civil partners in the eyes of the law, this doesn't mean they don't have any form of legal protection.

Couples have the option of making a cohabitation agreement (also known as a living together arrangement) before they move in together or even when they're living together, and making it legally binding.  

As each agreement is individual to each couple, they can choose what goes into it – such as how they plan to pay their bills or it can include provisions on care arrangements for their children or the division of assets if they were to split up.

Jenine comments:

"Relationships are now much more fluid than ever before, and the definition of marriage or a partnership is different for every couple."

"The law needs to be more flexible and receptive to the fact that marriage might not be an appropriate option for some couples and families today, as well as being difficult for couples to formally end."

"If a couple decides that their marriage isn't working and want to file for divorce, there are currently very limited grounds on which they can do this, which can make proceedings much more difficult especially for any children involved."

"Entering into a marriage or civil partnership is a big decision, and couples who want to make a long-term commitment to each other should have more of a say over how they do this, for their sake and that of their children."

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