Mortgage over marriage?
Amanda Phillips-Wyld and Emily Beven examine changes to marriage as a legal and social institution
Children out of wedlock, a mortgage before the ring, polyamory, non-monogamous relationships and online dating are just some examples of how the once-taboo is suddenly commonplace in the world of relationships and romance.
Compound this with increasing financial insecurity, rising national insurance, the upward trajectory of household expenditure resulting in people generally being worse off and it makes you wonder whether the idea of marriage has completely fallen by the wayside.
Is the ‘red tape’ imposed by the laws governing matrimonial matters no longer fit for purpose?
The law and marriage: tradition and trends
As it stands, there are several restrictions imposed on couples looking to get married, regulating how they must commit to each other in the eyes of the law. For instance, any couple wishing to wed must ensure that their ceremony is undertaken at an approved place with a qualified person conducting the ceremony.
Examples of places where couples can legally tie the knot include a Register Office or other premises approved by the local authority. This list is non-exhaustive; however, there is no doubt it limits where ceremonies can take place.
In terms of who can undertake such a ceremony, the marriage must be conducted by a person or in the presence of a person authorised to register marriages in the district and the marriage itself must be formally registered, signed by both parties with two witnesses present — further limiting the ability of couples to put their own stamp on their special day.
Restrictions and rates
Current matrimonial laws have existed since the mid-1800s when they were presumably fit for purpose. However, as early as 1941, when Britain’s longest wed couple, Ron and Joyce Bond, were married, rigid matrimonial laws and excessive restrictions caused a barrier to couples getting married. There was simply too little time to tick every box and cross every T as men and women went to serve in the war effort. Fast forward to today, and the law and restrictions feel even more outdated and incur multiple costs. For example, couples are required to give notice of their wedding, a task that costs £35 per person. In addition, they have to hire a room at the registry office for the nuptials to take place, costing £57 for even the most basic ceremony.
And that all-important marriage certificate, you have to pay for a copy of that too. £4 if you pick it up on the day or £10 if you wait until later. All of this for a standard wedding down at the Registry Office.
Covid-19 and marriage
With the impact of the covid-19 pandemic felt widely across the wedding industry, intimate and simple weddings have become the norm over the past couple of years as couples have been limited to the number of people able to attend, etc.
Despite this trend, though, recent research by Stowe Family Law revealed 23 per cent of those aged 18-24 consider that a budget of £25k or more is sensible compared to 3 per cent of those over 65 sharing the same view.
This shows a changing attitude towards the act of marriage and highlights how large an investment marriage can be for couples already facing the effects of rising house prices, inflated costs of living, and the implications of 2 years of lockdowns.
In addition to the financial implications of marriage, many couples simply do not fit the mould to enter into a legal marriage. The rise of non-traditional relationship models inclusive of polyamory and other types of open relationships only makes the idea of a legal marriage more redundant.
Developments and diversification
The legal sector has come some way to broaden its approach to these types of restrictions, legalising same-sex marriage in 2014, but the buck seems to stop there.
In its report last January, the Law Commission recognised the shortfalls in this area, noting current laws have failed to keep pace with modern life. Whilst recommendations at this stage do not propose including non-traditional relationship structures, they suggest couples shoud be granted the ability to host a legally recognised wedding at venues of their choice.
In addition, it has been suggested that couples be given flexibility within the ceremony itself, making way for both non-religious and religious weddings to take place.
However, even if these reforms were put in place, the fact remains that marriage costs money and the current economic climate requires people to think twice before making lofty investments. The reality is that when people weigh their options and decide whether they would like to spend their life savings on funding a marriage or a home to house their future family, many of them make the practical choice.
Perhaps marriage is simply too expensive, which the proposed reforms fail to address. One thing is for certain though, the taboo of unwed families no longer exists and the pressure is seemingly off.
With 31 per cent of those aged 18-24 polled by Stowe believing that marriage is an outdated institution as opposed to only 16 per cent of those 65 or older, it is impossible to ignore that millennials and their younger counterparts do not seem to value the institution of marriage in the same way.
Perhaps they are a product of their environment with over 50 per cent of their parents divorcing or maybe it is just a by-product of society's changing values.
Back in the 1940s, Ron and Joyce Bond got married to ensure security for their future in uncertain times; it was romantic and practical. As the landscape has become increasingly liberal, however, the face of the nuclear family has changed, making stories like Ron and Joyce’s somewhat of an anomaly.
It begs the question of whether the law will adjust to fit the ever-changing socio-economic landscape or whether the idea of marriage will simply become taboo in itself. Only time will tell.
Amanda Phillips-Wyld is a Partner, and Emily Beven'‹ is a Solicitor, both with Stowe Family Law: stowefamilylaw.co.uk