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The ideal of marriage and the Yorkshire Post

Stowe Family Law Senior Partner Marilyn Stowe appears in today’s edition of the Yorkshire Post, in a half-page special feature. She discusses changing social attitudes to marriage and the practical differences between cohabitation and wedded bliss…

NOT so long ago, marriage was taken for granted and living together was something to be frowned upon. I went to university at a time when many women only worked until they got married, mostly in their 20s, and started a family.

These days, social attitudes couldn’t have moved on any further. Only this month, welfare Minister Lord Freud spoke out about the “major structural changes” in society which lead couples away from marriage and towards cohabitation. He called for marriage to be “put back into its rightful place”.

The truth is that many modern couples see no reason to rush down the aisle. They are wary of the marriage breaking down and the financial implications that go with it. Statistics show that cohabitation is the fastest growing family type in the UK.

Let’s face it, living together is easy – you just pool your income and set up home without any legal ties. It’s a lot simpler and cheaper than entering into a legally binding relationship. Marriage used to provide a woman with financial security and enable her to give her children a future, but today we have careers and are doing well on our own. We can also have kids without the social stigma of being an unmarried mum.

There are many women, myself included, who remember the days when marriage used to be a good investment for a man. His wife would cook his meals, clean the house, do the shopping, produce all his children and look after them too. If his marriage failed, he would have to pay relatively little. It was a win-win. Women rarely pushed for divorce, not because they revered the institution of marriage, but because they couldn’t afford to leave.

When I founded my practice in Leeds in the 1980s, female clients who came to me were in truly desperate situations. Maintenance payments were small and hard-won, while matrimonial property division did not favour the wife. The lowest point surely was the case of Dart v Dart in 1996, when the wife was awarded less than one-fortieth of a £400m fortune – and was also made to pay her husband’s costs.

Today, if a marriage breaks down, a “poor” husband can stand to lose most of his capital and up to half his income. A rich husband now has the “equal sharing principle” to contend with. He stands to lose millions to a wife who has never worked, but instead stayed at home and raised the children. A role that was conventional 50 years ago, such a woman is now branded a “gold digger”.

In my experience, breadwinners – most of whom are men – abhor these new rules. It is no coincidence that as the marriage rate declines, cohabitation, which comes without the legal strings, is soaring in popularity. I believe many are avoiding marriage because of the sharing principle, which dictates that if the marriage ends, the wealthier partner (often the man) should split their assets equally.

And how ironic that marriage is regarded as old-fashioned, when it is currently cohabitation, the supposedly modern alternative, which harks back to an earlier age. There is no sharing and no reasonable needs to be met if a long-term relationship breaks down.

To read the rest of the article, please click here

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known family law solicitors and divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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  1. JamesB says:

    A fair summary of the situation. I think politicians try and nudge people to stay together, however they ignore the realities which you correctly point-out in your well written article here.

  2. Andrew says:

    Duck, Marilyn, the usual suspects are getting ready to open fire!

  3. Paul says:

    I’m old fashioned. In the same way that Kate Winslet won’t stand for any of that “50:50 nonsense” regarding access arrangements for her children, so I wouldn’t stand for any “equal sharing principle” in marriage. As “every other weekend” is good enough for dad when judges dish out contact orders (sorry, Child Arrangement Plans), then in my view a similar disproportionate split ought to be good enough when settling the finances.

  4. Luke says:

    It is interesting that Marilyn thinks most of the decline in marriage is due to men not wanting to marry – I agree with her but that is not the feminist or even standard media line – they think it is solely down to women opting to stay single. Although I think the latter is a factor, it is not in my opinion the main factor.

    I don’t think marriage 1.0 was a win-win for men – men HAD to work and try and earn decent money – otherwise women would reject them. So there were pluses and minuses but most men thought it was definitely worth it.

    Although marriage 1.0 worked for a lot of both genders it was a straitjacket for women and it is more than understandable that women opted to change that – so they wanted the choice to live any way they wished to and then opted to do just that – the problem is that they assumed that men would fit in with whatever they chose to do.

    What men have worked out is that marriage 2.0 has retained all the disadvantages for them but removed all the advantages – and then via Family Court and divorce heaped a load more financial disadvantages on top of that.

    I now cannot think of a SINGLE advantage that marriage 2.0 has for a man – it’s like buying a lottery ticket where winning gives you £0.00 and losing means the lottery company comes round your house and takes all your stuff !

    Individual men don’t have the media power of women because they don’t usually operate as a single group – but individually they are coming to this conclusion about marriage as they watch what happens to their friends and colleagues and the line of tradition and parental pressure won’t hold – they are voting with their feet…

  5. Paul says:

    Actually, Andrew, I think the article is remarkably perceptive and an accurate description of present societal attitudes towards marriage.

    I’d also put you down as one of the “usual suspects” and, not only that, guilty as charged too.

  6. Andrew says:

    Paul, what discount will I get for an early guilty plea?

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