Marriage rates continue to fall and more couples opt to cohabit than ever. Which begs the question; what is the point in marriage? Can the “No-Nup” and Family Justice Bill spell an end to traditional marriages in the UK?
Calls made to offer unmarried couples more legal protection
There have been calls recently to give unmarried couples the same kind of legal protection that married couples have been benefiting from for years. Sir James Munby, President of the High Court Family Division, has called for an overhaul of divorce law, in order to recognise the decline of the traditional nuclear family. The “Oxo family” is a dated family image, not reflected by modern couples and their preference not to legally tie the knot, single parents and same-sex couples.
Provisions like the No-Nup guard cohabitants
The “no nup” is a prenuptial agreement between a cohabiting non-married couple – having potentially even more legal weight thana pre-nup. Some firms boast they can even draft cohabitation agreements in as little as 20 minutes. It is intended that the agreement makes clear that each partner retains income, and assets acquired as a couple will be shared or distributed evenly. In theory, it provides protection and clarity in a fairly muddy legal area.
The problem with the no-nup is that as yet, it does not offer the same rights as a marriage would, especially regarding children and divorce rights. It’s better than nothing, but simply can’t provide the kind of protection that married couples enjoy.
Family Justice Bill on parliament’s agenda
A recent YouGov survey detailed that 35% of cohabiting couples wrongly assume they have the same rights as married couples. Cohabitation agreements can also help couples with wealth and property division should their relationship break down, yet these are not widely known about either.
The Family Justice Bill, which recently had its first reading in parliament, seeks to offer safeguards to cohabiting couples. The bill states that cohabiting couples have increased from 1.5milion to 3.3milion between 1996 and 2016, and the legal system should catch up with this increase.
Some finer points from the bill include:
- Enforcing prenuptial agreements to protect assets from both parties prior to the marriage or relationship
- Reforming family courts to be more open to scrutiny from regular publicity
- Out-of-court resolutions between married and unmarried couples, and families.
Safeguards that marriage covers
Currently, there is no right to property if a co-habitant’s partner owns the property, and the partner is simply helping to pay the mortgage. There may be an implied relationship, but nothing stands legally. The way things stand currently, a woman raising children while her partner is at work could find herself ejected from the house, legally able to keep nothing from the “household earnings” (that is, all money coming in to the household). Current marriage laws mean a wife would have a claim to make against her husband in this instance – and new protections could afford a female cohabitant – and mother – similar protection.
Fiscal security and stability
The main reason why cohabitation rights have not yet been put into law due to their complexity – marriage is still, from a legal standpoint, the best option for couples. It offers financial security in the forms of divorce rights, inheritance rights, and pension rights. The Family Justice Bill could be the pivotal turning point where everyone – not just married couples – is offered the same protective legal advantages as each other.
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