Divorced From Reality (from Solicitors Journal)
From my latest Solicitors Journal column “Family Business”, 22/02/2011.
Divorced from reality
Fresh from an Oxbridge eye-opener, Marilyn Stowe wonders how stuck in the past the future will be.
It is one of the perks of our chosen field that no two weeks are the same. For the past 30 years I have represented an average of some 300 clients a year. During this time there have been significant changes in our society and to our laws. Most of all, there have been changes to how we value marriage and how we define families.
Even by my standards, however, the past couple of weeks have been extraordinary. It began when I received an invitation to take part in a student debate. I was asked to speak in favour of the motion: ‘This house believes that marriage is an outdated institution.’ The venue? The Oxford Union: that training ground for future politicians, which has hosted leaders including Sir Winston Churchill and the Dalai Lama. Alas, I can’t claim to be a leader on the world stage. However, I had plenty to say about the marriage motion – and I decided to go for it.
The controversial motion fell, but what a memorable evening. Arriving at Oxford, walking up the crunchy gravel path to the union building, I felt as if I had been transported from Leeds to Hogwarts.
The best way to describe it is that it outdid anything in a Harry Potter novel, but it was impossible not to relax before such a welcoming audience: they cheered the speakers and union officers as we made our way to our seats in the crowded, imposing debating chamber.
When I stood up to speak I explained that as a practising family lawyer I believe law reform has transformed the value and significance of marriage as we know it. In the 16 to 44 age group, there are now more couples cohabiting than there are married couples.
The winner takes it all
The family law blog I write prompts regular comments and emails from men of all ages and occupations. Some of these men clearly believe that our family law is biased towards women to such a degree that, as one wrote recently, getting married is no longer a “viable option”. To quote another: “It’s just not worth it.”
Family solicitors will remember the ‘old days’, when marriage used to be a good investment for a man. His wife would cook his meals, clean the house, do the shopping, produce all his children and look after them, too. If his marriage failed, he would have to pay relatively little. It was a win-win.
Women rarely pushed for divorce not because they revered the institution of marriage, but because they couldn’t afford to leave. When I founded my practice in Leeds in the 1980s, female clients who came to me were in truly desperate situations. I found that abused women would frequently return to their husbands because they and their children had nowhere else to go and there was insufficient provision and protection for them by the law.
Change of heart
I pointed out that, since then, much has changed. In my experience, breadwinners – most of whom are men – abhor today’s equal sharing principle.
Isn’t it ironic that marriage is regarded as old fashioned when at present it is cohabitation, the supposedly modern alternative, which harks back to an earlier age? There is no sharing and there are no reasonable needs to be met if a long-term relationship breaks down.
Instead, there have been moves to restore the institution of marriage to its original status. There are calls to invest £30m into ‘relationship education’, and restore tax breaks for married couples. There are moves to legalise prenuptial agreements; as I have noted previously, these plans mark a departure from the bedrock of our family law system: fairness, exercised through judicial discretion.
But, whatever the moralisers try and do, it is too late. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle.
Marilyn Stowe is the senior partner at Stowe Family Law. She blogs at www.marilynstowe.co.uk.
Share this post
Get free family law updates
Marilyn Stowe’s new book: expert advice on all aspects of divorce, just 99p!
Divorce & Splitting Up by Marilyn Stowe is the essential how-to book for anyone who is getting divorced or splitting up from a partner. Read more >>
"A must buy that really opens your eyes to what is involved if you are considering or going through a divorce." - Amanda Brown
"This will answer your questions in a way that non-lawyers can understand." - Miss P.
"Don't get divorced without it. I read this book despite being divorced for more than 10 years. I wish I'd had this book to hand at the time. Great examples, simple to read and understand." - Jamie
"This really has helped me to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel and I will come out of it a stronger person." - J
Marilyn Stowe on SKY News & ITV This Morning
Subscribe & Follow
In the Media
Marilyn Stowe is the senior partner in Stowe Family Law, which has offices in Yorkshire, Cheshire and London. With more than 30 years’ experience handling divorce cases and family law proceedings she is regarded as one of the most formidable and sought after divorce lawyers in the UK. In 2012, Marilyn became one of the first solicitors to qualify as a family law arbitrator.
All persons mentioned in the scenarios are fictitious: details have been deliberately changed in order to protect identities and other confidential circumstances of my clients. All advice and information on this blog including posts written by guest authors, is given only as a general guide to the operation of the law on the date of publication. Readers must place no reliance whatsoever on the content of this blog and must always obtain their own legal advice. Marilyn Stowe, Stowe Family Law LLP and guest authors accept no liability whatsoever arising as a result of reliance upon its content.
Contact Stowe Family Law
These downloads accompany Marilyn Stowe's latest book: Divorce & Splitting Up: Advice From a Top Divorce Lawyer. After opening, right click to save to your computer.
For more free downloads, visit the Downloads section.