European Family Law Volume II
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European Family Law Volume II

The Changing Concept of ‘Family’ and Challenges for Domestic Family Law

Edited by Jens M. Scherpe

This four-volume set maps the emerging European family law. It is intended to serve as a resource for anyone interested in this area of law, as well as a basis for teaching on comparative and international family law courses. The first volume examines the impact of institutions and organisations on European family law. While there is no European body that could actually legislate definitively on family law, there are some institutions that have a direct impact on European family law, while the impact of others is more indirect. In the second volume the changing concept of ‘family’ and challenges for domestic family law are analysed in 21 different jurisdictions, in 16 chapters. All contributions look at ‘horizontal’ family law (the law concerning the relationships between adults), ‘vertical’ family law (the law concerning the relationships of adults and children) as well an ‘individual’ family law (the law on names and gender identity). In the third volume the contributions take a comparative view on specific issues from a European perspective. The fourth volume, which works as a stand-alone monograph, draws on all of the previous chapters, and discusses the present and future of European family law. It establishes areas where ‘institutional’ European family law exists – in the sense that there are binding legal rules for all European jurisdictions – for example, as a result of a decision by the European Court of Human Rights. It also identifies areas where, as a result of common legal and social developments for ‘horizontal’, ‘vertical’ and ‘individual’ family law, an ‘organic’ European family law is emerging and suggests how family laws in Europe are going to develop in the future.
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Chapter 2: The changing concept of ‘family’ and challenges for family law in England and Wales


England and Wales has experienced major changes in family structure and attitudes to family relationships in recent years. The key principle underpinning the legal responses to these, and shaping the reforms which have taken place or are contemplated, has been equality. The difficulty for policymakers has been to determine how to translate the notion of equal treatment into the setting of intimate relationships which themselves exist in a society where men and women may still occupy very different positions in the economic and social structure and where children are not, by any means, regarded as ‘equal’ to adults. England and Wales has seen a significant postponement in the age of marriage, large increases in divorce and increasing resort to extramarital cohabitation in recent decades. The mean age at first marriage was 32.1 for men and 29.9 for women in 2009, from a historic low of 24.4 for men and 22.4 for women in 1970. In 1992, 12 per cent of women and 10 per cent of men aged 16 to 30 were cohabiting. By 2007, these figures had risen to 19 per cent for women and 14 per cent for men, with around 10 per cent of the total population over 16 in cohabiting relationships. This increase has now begun to impact upon the divorce rate by removing from the married population some of those couples in unstable unions who might previously have felt socially constrained to marry.

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