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Law Commission: 'Marriage law is outdated'

Current legislation is incapable of providing for cohabiting couples even though they are the fastest growing family type in the UK

17 December 2015

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The Law Commission has released a review into marriage law and has concluded that 'existing marriage law is unnecessarily restrictive and outdated and fails to serve today's diverse society'.

The commission does not go onto to make recommendations for reform in its paper, Getting Married, but puts forward a series of questions outlining what would 'need to be examined to achieve a modern law of marriage'.

It highlights that marriage law currently prohibits non-belief organisations such as the British Humanist Association from conducting legally binding marriages, as they are not a 'group with a registered place of worship'.

Professor Nicholas Hopkins, law commissioner for property, family and trust law, is unequivocal in his view that the status quo cannot continue, as the law is simply not reflective of the society it now affects.

'The Law Commission believes that a modern law of marriage should allow couples to get married in the way they want and in a place that is meaningful to them, while continuing to recognise the interests of society and the state in protecting the status of marriage.'

The Marriage Act 1949 governs weddings in England and Wales and has been kept up to date through isolated legislation such as the Civil Partnership Act 2004, but there has been no comprehensive reform in the area since the 1949 act.

It is incapable of providing for cohabiting couples for example, who are the fastest growing family type in the UK, increasing by 29.7 per cent between 2004 and 2014.

When someone in a cohabiting relationship dies, their partner is often left depending on other legislation such as the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, to make a claim against their deceased partner's estate.

The report also highlights practical restrictions such as where a marriage ceremony can be conducted. Outdoor venues such as parks and gardens are prohibited.

Professor Hopkins believes that holes like this expose current legislation as underserving society, meaning the Marriage Act needs an overhauled.

'The law of marriage in England and Wales is now out of date, inconsistent and overly restrictive. Our modern society deserves a clearer set of rules that gives all couples greater choice and certainty, while providing protection from the abuses involved in sham and forced marriage.'


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