The Modern Family and Family Law – Is The Changing Makeup of The Modern Family Reflected in Family Law?
Society is in a constant state of flux, with our living situations, habits, beliefs – any and every aspect of our lives – being subject to constant change. Nowhere is this truer than with the modern family and its makeup, but have the laws that govern us caught up with the inertia of change? In this article we look at the changing nature of family law in the UK, and whether family life is reflected accurately in the legal system.
Which laws have kept up with the changing dynamics of the modern family?
Over the past century or so, the nature of the British family has changed enormously, and for the most part, our laws have caught up.
For instance, the legal process of getting separated legally has become easier as the number of divorces has increased (from 22% of all marriages in 1970 to 33% in 2010, according to ONS statistics).
As more women have entered the workforce (52.7% in 1971 compared to 71.9% in 2020), laws like The Equal Pay Act (1970), Sex Discrimination Act (1975), and the Equality Act 2010 have ensured their fair treatment.
And thanks to the Marriage (Same Sex) Couples Act 2014, gay and lesbian couples can now apply for civil partnerships and gain the same legal rights as heterosexual couples. This means that, in the case of divorce, marital assets will be divided fairly between each party.
Which areas of modern family life are less reflected in law?
The legal situation is still evolving, however.
Many couples are choosing to cohabit before getting married, and in many cases are purchasing houses together. This creates a problem though: as relationships come to an end, many are discovering that the wealthier party (the individual who paid more into the mortgage or deposit, for example), will gain a larger share of the proceeds of divorce. This can come as a shock and put the financially weaker party at a disadvantage.
More international marriages and children born of two people of different nationalities is also creating difficulties during divorce proceedings and establishing each parent’s rights. Navigating these legal issues can be fraught and potentially costly.
And as more people have second or third marriages, many want to protect their assets for their children, but do not realise that subsequent divorces could result in a loss of funds to the other party.
According to Suzanne Todd, leader of the divorce and family team at solicitors, Withers Worldwide, legislation is playing catch up to the realities of the modern British family, and families need to be aware of their legal situation.
Talking to Mariella Frostrup in the company’s Modern Relationships podcast, Suzanne explained that potential laws such as No-Fault Divorces and a review of Surrogacy laws are on the horizon. However, children can still only have two legal parents (a problem for polyamorous relationships) and stepparents cannot gain a right to be a part of the child’s life – a situation that could put the child at a disadvantage if they have established a close bond with a said stepparent.
Family law is changing, but is it changing fast enough? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.