The Changing Concept of ‘Family’ and Challenges for Domestic Family Law
Edited by Jens M. Scherpe
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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