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The changing face of modern families

As Boris Johnson moved into 10 Downing Street, he became, along with partner Carrie Symonds, the first unmarried couple to live at the address.

And they are not alone, as recent ONS data revealed that the cohabiting couple’s household, up 25.8% over the decade, is growing faster than married-couple families.

Quite rightly same-sex couples can now enter a civil partnership or marriage as they choose. The same ONS data showed a rise in same-sex couple families by more than 50% since 2015 and the number of same-sex married couples has risen fourfold.

Last October (2018), Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keidan took their battle to the Supreme Court to be able to choose to have a civil partnership instead of getting married and won.

The number of people living alone increased by 16% between 1997 and 2017 to 7.7 million. This number is predicted to rise to 10.7 million by 2039.

Welcome to the changing face of the modern family. 

This Saturday, the 3rd Saturday in the month of August, is one of the most popular days for a wedding in Great Britain. Yet, opposite-sex marriage is now at an all-time low with fewer people choosing to tie the knot year after year. The sharpest fall is among the under 20s age group leading to an uplift in the average age of men, 37.5 years and women, 35.1 years getting married in 2015.

So why are fewer people getting married? 

The expectation from society to get married has certainly decreased. As the statistics support, relationships are more fluid, and people have more choices than generations ago.

Weddings can also be ridiculously expensive, and money saved may be more wisely spent on a house deposit, education or travel.

Generation Z and their old siblings the Millennials are certainly redefining relationships and expectations of marriage. When think-tank The Marriage Foundation compiled research amongst 13-18-year olds, just 57%  of girls and 55% of boys wanted to get married. #relationships goals seem to be have become more Tinder swipes than walking down the aisle.  Although the greatest love affair for most generations today is their phone.

Today, many cohabiting couples choose not to marry. For some people, a civil partnership fits their way of life yet gives them the legal protection of marriage. Some people choose to go it alone, some embrace marriage whilst some couples bring together and blend their families in second and third relationships.

When society changes, the law can be slow to follow. In family law, reform is afoot, but its pace is, for some, not quick enough. A divorce reform bill is passing through parliament (although there are some distractions getting in the way). The government announced plans to extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples, possibly by the end of this year (see distraction comment above).  And calls are getting louder for more legal protection for cohabiting couples, who as it stands have no legal rights. In the eyes of the law, you are either married or you are not.

Divorce law was first introduced back in 1858 with 24 taking place in that first year. In 2017, there were 101,669. Marriage and relationships are continuously evolving. The modern family will always be changing its face in response to cultural, social and technological factors. Trend data points to the blurring of parental roles, the increase in multi-generational living, the end of 2.4, influence of technology, children living longer at home and increased support from grandparents as just some of the changes.

The modern family has moved away from its institutional 2.4 format into a flexible, evolving and fluid concept that creates space for people to create balanced and well-rounded relationships outside of matrimony (how old-fashioned does that word even sound).

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. JamesB says:

    You ask the question, then don’t attempt to answer it. So why are fewer people getting married? The answer is bad matrimonial family law. Marrying (cohabiting or otherwise) people against their will is not the solution.

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