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Should Family Law Be Changed to Accommodate Changing Marriage Trends?

According to recent figures published by the Office for National Statistics, marriage rates in England and Wales are at their lowest since records began. Different people have their own opinion about what lies behind this trend, but blaming the recession by claiming it must simply be because people cannot afford to marry at the moment is wrong. In fact, this trend is nothing new; marriage has been in steady decline since 1980. More likely explanations for this drop in what was once an institution are our increasingly liberal society and its removal of the stigma associated with unmarried cohabitation and parenting and an increase in education and careers, especially amongst women, causing us to wait longer until we marry.

However, like any family law solicitor will tell you, there are definite advantages to being married rather than living together. Such advantages are mainly concerned with money: tax, inheritance and the like, so they're quite important. There are huge numbers of UK couples who live together but who aren't married; in fact such couples make up one sixth of all couples in the country. Unfortunately though, not all of them realise they are missing out on the rights that married couples enjoy: half of them mistakenly believe that they have rights as 'common law spouses.' Things are only going to get worse, and more unfair: it's estimated that by 2030, a quarter of UK couples will be unmarried cohabitants.

The Conservative party is very publicly plugging its idea for introducing tax breaks for married couples in order to encourage marriage, whilst the left-wing attack this idea as 'social engineering:' and interference with a burgeoning social trend away from marriage. Other politicians simply call for the increase of protection for all vulnerable families, married or not. One thing's for certain though, in just two decades the British family and its dynamic have changed beyond recognition, in which time very little family law has been updated. So it seems there's a pretty good argument for altering family law to reflect the decline in marriage.

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