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An alternate future for the family

“Nothing lasts forever – not even your troubles.”

 – Arnold H. Glasow

I wrote here the other day suggesting that the continued increases in the number of cohabiting couple families and the rate of divorce could, in the near future, spell the end of marriage as the dominant family type in this country. Thinking on, I have since realised that those two facts could spell an even more fundamental change for families in the future.

Many people fear the increase in the cohabiting couple family type as they believe that it is less permanent than marriage, and that this will have dire consequences for society. Let us assume that they are correct, at least in the first proposition that it is less permanent. The other fact, the increase in divorce, obviously is all about marriage not being permanent.

Extrapolating those things into the future leads us to the conclusion that relationships in the future may be regarded as temporary, at least for a very large proportion of the population. Of course, this is already the reality for many people, who never find that ‘partner for life’. The difference may be that that will become the norm, rather than the exception.

So, what are the consequences of this?

Well, first we may need to do away with the expectation that we will all find that partner for life and, more importantly, with the idea that finding such a partner is the only route to happiness and fulfilment. These things are, consciously or unconsciously, grilled into our children. Many more of them are going to be sorely disappointed by reality, as their lives unfold. We may need to teach our children that relationships don’t have to be permanent, and that there are many other routes to happiness and fulfilment, other than finding a partner for life.

The next consequence, and the one that the supporters of marriage so fear, is that there is likely to be a substantial increase in the incidence of single parent families. Being raised by one parent (including shared arrangements of ‘one parent at a time’) is going to become the norm. Rather than try to fight this, we are simply going to have to get used to it, and do what we can to ensure that the welfare of all of those children is not going to suffer. We can start by removing that label ‘single parent family’, and with it the stigma that still attaches to it in some circles.

The third consequence of relationships being temporary is that many more will no longer be able to rely upon having a partner to support them into old age. We are already seeing this with the increase in the number of ‘silver splitters’ – couples who divorce near or past retirement age. This will obviously have serious implications for the care of the elderly, with other relations, or the state, having to take on more of the burden.

There will no doubt be other consequences of the increasingly temporary nature of relationships, but those are perhaps the most obvious.

Now, it may be that this alternate future for the family in this country may never come to pass. I’m not saying that it will. However, it would be quite wrong to think that the family in the future will be the same as the family is now. These things are in a constant state of change – family life in this country now is quite different from what it was just fifty years ago, for example. The above is surely a scenario that is possible, and one for which we should be prepared.

One last thing. Many readers may be appalled by the above scenario. However, I’m sure the same could be said for those supporters of traditional families fifty years ago, as they contemplated possible futures. Things may certainly be different, but I think it would be a mistake to equate ‘different’ with ‘worse’. Who knows, people may actually be happier when released from the shackles of traditional expectation. It’s all a question of coming to terms with the new reality, whatever that may be.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. D says:

    Nice stuff! The future is scary; but not necessary bad.

  2. spinner says:

    Why is this of concern, the days of people staying together because of some concern for society are long gone. People want to be free to do what they want to do especially women who initiate the majority of divorces and if there was not the massively unfair family courts ahead of them I think the balance for who ends relationships would return to 50/50.

    The issue at the moment is we need to smooth out the ending of these relationships and not trash men’s lives and take everything they have worked for for the previous twenty years from them. This contributes in my opinion to the relatively high rate of depression and suicide in men of a certain age.

    People need to be free to experiment with new relationships without the state jumping on them and committing them without their consent to cohabiting agreements or marriage lite. If two adults want to be in a relationship without any commitment beyond their personal commitment to each other that must be respected.

  3. Reddit Seenit Dunit says:

    I have to say that, largely — and sadly — I agree with John.

    It is clear that relationships are simply not lasting as long as they used to — “till death do us part”. In most cases it is probably more a question of “till one or other of us — or both — get fed up.” People are not prepared to “try” nowadays, convinced that somewhere else “out there” there is someone “better” for them. Although sadly they will probably go through another couple of medium-term relationships before they finally “settle” (or more cynically, give up).

    All this is not helped by those (usually of the gentler sex — obviously) who “want to marry a footballer” — or other wealthy partner, to whom marriage can’t possibly be that bad, because at the “end” (however long that may be), there is sure to be a “golden” kiss goodbye — as was so clearly pointed out by Baroness Deech in her speech to the House of Lords in December 2014.

    Probably MOST women do hope that they are marrying “for life”. Because breaking apart can be a very stressful event. Except…. Except if they go into marriage realising, indeed expecting, that it may not last — so they won’t put too much investment in it. Confident in the law of the land granting them “recompense” for their “effort” — even if she has been unfaithful, and he hasn’t.

    No wonder men — “traditionally” keen to avoid marriage — are probably digging their heels in. Even a village idiot could see that the system is heavily stacked against the man. Why can’t our lawmakers??

    • spinner says:

      To much invested in the status quo and there are understandably many lawyers in Parliament. I would do the same if I was in their position. The only way forward is to remove the money from family law and I think that will come mainly by technology but also by breaking down what their role entails and substituting in alternate lower cost providers of equivalent services. Once the money is removed these people will move on and do something else and then the consumers of legal services will get more say in what they actually want from a legal service rather than what is beneficial to our current legal service providers.

      • Marilyn Stowe says:

        Dear Spinner
        Change the record? You make the same point over and over and over. You think you were hard done by but I will bet you actually weren’t.

        • John Bolch says:

          I second that, Marilyn! 🙂

        • spinner says:

          >>Change the record? You make the same point over and over and over

          I have taken a position based on my experience just as you and John have. How many overly dramatic articles are you both going to write on how the withdrawal of Legal Aid is destroying the legal system. When you change the record, maybe I will also.

          >> You think you were hard done by but I will bet you actually weren’t.

          It’s this sort of disrespect of people that I found common among the lawyers I dealt with. How would you know either way yet you feel free to speculate.

          • keith says:

            come on chaps lets not argue. we are no longer in the school playground 🙂

          • spinner says:

            They are not really arguing with me, nothing personal to them, I’m sure if ever questioned on their activities they would put up a Nuremberg defence.

  4. keith says:

    what most of Society fail to look at in all of this is that out of all the millions of living creatures on this planet, humans are the only species to sign a legally binding marriage contract.
    is that what nature intended for us.
    says it all really.

  5. Eyes Wide Open says:

    Spinner’s point of, “The consumers of legal services will get more say in what they actually want from a legal service, rather than [just] what is beneficial to our current legal service providers”, makes a strong point with me.

    Looking back, I can see several occasions where my lawyer managed to “notch up” the costs, for absolutely NO benefit to me. And yet things I suggested she could pursue, which might well have helped my case, like evidence of a previous undissolved marriage overseas, she did not — probably to my cost. She had the power to persuade the judge as to the importance of ordering the OS to providing details, but when he did not agree, she did nothing to try to persuade him — she did not even attempt to make the case. For all that, it seemed she was too scared of upsetting him.

    “Justice” is therefore more about disposing of cases as quickly as possible — certainly not fairness. As for divorce lawyers — even one I went to for a separate opinion, really let me down — and eventually cost me even more money.

    Not that I am ever likely to marry again, after all this, but I’ll tell you what I’ve learned (the hard way): You are far better off doing it almost entirely yourself. But, since divorce is still so stressful (even without the thousands in lawyer’s fees), spend some of the money you’d pretty well waste on a lawyer, by seeing a (much cheaper) counselor.

    Or talking to three or four really good, supportive friends — of both genders, if you feel sure you are the one who is being abused. Because women may initially take some convincing, but if they come to see you are the one who has been wronged, say by a disloyal wife, they can be just as supportive, or even more, than men.

    One other thing: As the old adage says, “Choose your friends wisely.” And make sure they don’t know how to contact your former partner — just in case you didn’t.

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