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Your Relationship And "The State" - Planet Jonny
Your Relationship And "The State"
Just read an article on BBC News that involves an old bug-bear of mine. It starts by saying:
The government has asked the Law Commission to begin a consultation process looking at the rights of couples who decide to live together.
Why is this? Because:
...many feel the time has come to ensure the same legal safeguards afforded to married couples are extended to those who choose to live out of wedlock.
Why? As far as I'm concerned, any relationship that I'm in is purely the business of me and the other person concerned. If we want the government to get involved in our relationship, then we will go to an office of that government (i.e. a "registry office") and formally register our relationship with the state, with all the rights, responsibilities and limitations that this implies (i.e. "marriage").

Now there might be a case for allowing an alternative type of registration for those who have a problem with the word/concept of marriage. But I really think there is a very important principle here:

The right to get married must also include the right to not get married.

I don't want the government "marrying" people against their will based on the number of months they've spent living together. And how do you define it? What's the cut off point? Marriage is very binary (you went through a ceremony, said a load of stuff, had stuff explained to you, and then signed on the dotted line). You can't later claim you didn't realise it happened. You're either married or you're not, and it starts when you want it to start. You and your partner judge at which point you want your relationship to get serious. Trying to define a legal definition of the point at which a relationship gets serious (and one that will probably be applied "after the event") seems highly problematic to me.

And to people who'd say:
She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme she was left in a "vulnerable position" because they had never married and her partner had not adjusted his will.
"This will address a terrible unfairness, and it's long overdue," she said.
...this seems awfully like the "terrible unfairness" of people who chose to rent a house rather than buy, and then complained 25 years later about the fact that they didn't own a house.

If you want to be married, then get married. Don't force everyone else to get married against their will because you don't want to take a decision. And if you don't want to get married, but want to sort out your legal situation, then for God's sake make a will!

Actually, just make a will anyway! If you have kids and you're not married and you haven't made a will then you're really playing with fire.

Now I've had this discussion many times with many people, and a lot of them have said that this (i.e. long-term cohabitees being treated as being married) already happens on account of people who live together ending up for long enough in a "common law marriage". Each time I've tried to explain that there is no such thing as common law marriage, but they never seem to believe me. (I believe there was such a thing as "common law marriage", but when the Victorians passed laws to regulate marriage, those laws would have superseded the old common law).

Interestingly, this article actually cites the myth of "common law marriage" as a need to legislate for cohabiting:
Family lawyer Simone Katzenberg, the author of the book I Want A Divorce, told BBC Radio Five Live many cohabiting couples wrongly believe they have rights.

"There is this myth that people think if they live together for something like three years or more, they become common law husband and wife and then have rights," she said.
So we have a situation where people wrongly believe something exists, and as a result pain and suffering is being caused, and the government's first instinct is to start passing yet more laws to regulate our lives.

Is there not a simpler solution?

A public education campaign saying something like the following:

"There is no such thing as common law marriage. If you and your partner are not married and you die, your savings, assets and share of your home will go to your family - and not to your partner. Your relationship has no legal status whatsoever. If you want it to, then you need to either get married or have a will and other legal documents drawn up."

You could even have a few real people, explaining how badly they and their children had suffered when their partner died. I don't want the law changed. But I won't deny there's a problem. I just think that the solution is to make people aware of the problem, and then let them figure out the solutions that are right for they and their loved ones.
27 thoughts or Leave a thought
bastun_ie From: bastun_ie Date: May 31st, 2006 09:12 am (UTC) (Link)
Very good points. So you'll be sending this to the Law Commission, then?
artela From: artela Date: May 31st, 2006 09:17 am (UTC) (Link)
I fully agree - if people want what marriage brings then they should get married. We're not talking rocket science here :-)

(married nearly 25 years, and still loving it!)
From: evilref Date: May 31st, 2006 09:26 am (UTC) (Link)

Hardwicke was an Interfering Fool

I'd go further, and say it is no business of the state to involve itself in marriage at all. There should be mechanisms for looking after children, and possibly mechanisms to support the family unit (defined as whatever unit chooses to declare itself to be a family), but it is no business of the state to decide who should marry.

If you want to marry, go find a priest of your chosen religion, and argue with them.

The interesting thing is that my view would eliminate at a stroke all the arguments about "gay marriage" or "polyamourous marriage". Or, if it doesn't eliminate them, it at least makes them none of the State's business.

But asking the State to mind its own business is not what is fashionable these days. :-( :-( :-(
pond823 From: pond823 Date: May 31st, 2006 09:46 am (UTC) (Link)
While I agree with the principle that state should keeps it's nose out of default relationships, they do need to clear up some of the existing laws. For example, a couple that have a child out of wedlock have no right to each others assets if they break up. Fine, thats sucks for women who gave up work to look after children and have to reset their career, but they should have though of that. However a couple who are married and get divorce do have rights to each others assets. Fine. Except that if one of the divorcees then has a co-habiting relationship with some else, who they aren't married too, that persons assets are considered when finanical settlements are arranged by the courts.

Personally I think that there should be a simple 'union' contract that is legal, remembering that pre-nuptal agreements aren't valid in the UK, that isn't marriage, has nothing to do with religion or morality and can include more that 2 people. If the union is broken, everyone gets a equal share of the assets.

From: evilref Date: May 31st, 2006 09:53 am (UTC) (Link)
I believe the examples you suggest should come under the remit of the Child Support Agency, and marital status when the child is born should be irrelevent.
pond823 From: pond823 Date: May 31st, 2006 10:09 am (UTC) (Link)
Child support gets the parent 15% net of the others salary currently without regard to assets. If the couple are married then the property is very likely to be go to the custodian of the child until the child reaches 17 or leaves full time education. If they are unmarried then the property goes to who ever is on the mortgage, not matter if there are children or not.

If you want to be callous:-
If your a man, don't get married.
If your a women, don't get pregnant unless you are married.
From: evilref Date: May 31st, 2006 10:19 am (UTC) (Link)
I would argue that child support should include a wage for childcare. The parent who is doing childcare can either spend it on childcare, or take it for themselves.

Of course, the only way to be sure to avoid pregnancy is to avoid sex. Contraceptives don't always work -- we have the little boy to prove it.

Then you get bank managers hinting to their customers that they ought to get abortions:-

pond823 From: pond823 Date: May 31st, 2006 10:40 am (UTC) (Link)
I agree that basic child support too low. This might seem strange coming from me, who is getting divorced and has a wonderful daughter. I pay substantionally more than I'd have to by law. My beef is that a friend of mine who didn't get married when she became and pregnant gave up her job got screwed when they split up, as she moved in with her then partner, contributed to the household for 4 years but got nothing at the end of it.
jonnynexus From: jonnynexus Date: May 31st, 2006 10:52 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, I agree that when you have children together, then the state should have a right to treat you as a couple for certain purposes in order to ensure that the rights of the child are upheld. And I also think that a marriage-like registration system would be useful.
omentide From: omentide Date: May 31st, 2006 10:46 am (UTC) (Link)
Mostly, I agree, people should find their own solutions.

The thing that bugs me, though, is pensions. But that's a matter for one's employer, not the government. Yeh, the NHS has been under pressure to allow partners to benefit from pensions, but it hasn't happened yet.
jonnynexus From: jonnynexus Date: May 31st, 2006 10:53 am (UTC) (Link)
That could be done as a voluntary opt-in thing. i.e. You could have the right to nominate someone who you are not married to as your other pension recipient.
omentide From: omentide Date: May 31st, 2006 11:56 am (UTC) (Link)
I can see this leading to difficulties. Specially with pensions schemes that are potentially very expensive for the State.

I could choose to nominate my lifelong partner but, could I choose to nominate my beloved pet? Or a charity?

I am SO struggling to get my head around financial stuff at the moment. It's not my strongpoint.
jonnynexus From: jonnynexus Date: May 31st, 2006 12:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, I'm not saying it *should* be done. Merely that it could be done without the government categorising people against their will.
oldson From: oldson Date: May 31st, 2006 11:11 am (UTC) (Link)
The State should interfere in any situation where it has some obligation, benefits, pensions, taxes and so forth, where intervention from the state is required to resolve something.

What I'm thinking this is leading up to (and I could be paranoid, but hear me out), is that the state will eventually try to raise taxes on money not left directly to a spouse (as recognised by the state), with a possible indication on lack of inheritance and so on.

At the end of the day, if you have complete control over your populace in all ways and it's in law, then you're secure and nothing can stop you, the nanny state is just one example of this.

When your kid gets bullied, he's sent for counselling because he's a "provocative Victim", the bullies get treats because they're misunderstood, we understand this, psychologists tell us that this is the way things must be.

Marriage is an institution, not one that everyone agrees with, but nonetheless, an institution, if people want to register and protect themselves without getting married, it's possible to draw up contracts between people (seen it done) that regulate how things are without the need to be married. Marriage for me is a personal committment, not a financial consideration.

However, I do think that commonlaw should be more explained to the masses.
kiwirevo From: kiwirevo Date: May 31st, 2006 02:20 pm (UTC) (Link)

Personally, I don't agree with you on this issue...

I'm not saying the proposals are the ideal solution.
But for me and my partner they are a step forward. We don't believe in marriage and have no intention of ever getting married. This relates to our political and religious beliefs and has nothing to do with our commitment to each other.

We have set up home together. We've been together for more than 5 years, lived together since Nov 2002 and are currently trying to have a baby. We are committed to each other and we have set up our mortgage insurance so if anything happens to either one of us the other inherits the flat. I'd be happy to sign a civil register (like gay couples can now do) or whatever so we had legal rights but I have no interest in getting married.

jonnynexus From: jonnynexus Date: May 31st, 2006 02:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Personally, I don't agree with you on this issue...

Yeah, but I've said that I don't object to a second form of official registered partnership for those who don't want to get married. In fact, I think such a thing should be created, although given that civil marriage *isn't* a religious thing (which is why you can get divorced) creating a second type of registered relationship which is identical to civil marriage save the name would seem a bit superfluous. But if people want it, then who am I to say no?

But that's not what I'm arguing about.

i.e. (And I know this *isn't* what you're saying) ...

...What I don't see is why just because you and your partner don't want to go through a marriage ceremony, me and my partner should have our relationship upgraded to marriage-lite without our consent and whether we like it or not. We'll get married when we want to thank you very much.

Like I said, I know that's *not* what you're saying, but it's what I'm arguing about.
jonnynexus From: jonnynexus Date: May 31st, 2006 02:59 pm (UTC) (Link)

As an aside on the civil partnerships issue...

My understanding of civil partnerships is that (save procedural differences) they are basically identical to marriage except for two things:

1) The name is different.

2) They are for gay people. (You can't have one if you are heterosexual).

My thinking on it is that they are for gay people only because they are supposed to *be* marriage to all intents and purposes, but that they avoided using that word to avoid inflaming the bigots. I suspect that in a few years time some legislation will merge marriage and civil partnerships together. (i.e. Existing civil partnerships will now be able to be referred to as a "marriage" - people won't have to get married again).

So the reasons why heterosexuals can't have civil partnerships are:

1) Because that would imply that civil partnerships are in some way "marriage-lite", which they're not supposed to be. They're supposed to be as good as marriage.

2) If they then merged them with marriage, heterosexuals who'd had a civil partnership just because they don't like the word "marriage" would probably complain.

I am curious: is your objection to marriage but acceptance of some form of civil partnership simply due to the cultural/political/religious baggage that comes with marriage? Or would you expect heterosexual civil partnerships to have some fundamental legal differences compared with civil marriage?
kiwirevo From: kiwirevo Date: May 31st, 2006 05:12 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: As an aside on the civil partnerships issue...

You may be right on the future gazing but who knows?

Re: your curiosity - yes to your first question and not necessarily but I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about it is the answer to the second one. But you make the issue a bit too black and white for my liking. It's not the word marriage I object to but the full range of connotations that goes with it.

1. I don't want to be Mrs whoever. 2. I have a personal identity and I don't want it determined by whomever I choose to spend my life with. 3. I don't have any interest in doing anthing 'in the eyes of the lord'. 4. I want to be with my partner but not one of his chattels. (Hasn't anyone on this thread heard any of the feminist/socialist arguments about marriage?)

On the other hand - I would like us both to have the legal protection that is currently only extended to people who do want 1-4 above. I think if I get killed by a bus tomorrow, Dan should get my pension and vice versa. If we have a baby and break up, Dan should have fathers' rights automatically. If we break up after 10 years, he should get half the flat despite the fact I pay more into it (since I earn more). Otherwise, what is the point of living together? We might as well live separately and keep dating.

I couldn't care less about any other aspects - just basic legal rights. I may be completely wrong about the civil partnerships issue - and if it is marriage by another name then perhaps it's not for me. I always saw it as a way you can opt-in to being linked together rather than the state presuming that everyone in shared accommodation was 'together'. But perhaps I'm wrong about that.

I'm really not prepared to get into a debate about what anyone thinks about my beliefs. I don't tell anyone else what to believe and certainly no-one on this thread is going to change my mind. I've been a socialist for far too long for that! My beliefs are my beliefs and that is that. Think they are kooky if you want... I simply thought I'd register my disagreement since most times I find we're on the same track generally.

Honestly, I haven't thought of all the implications because we're not campaigning for this. I just think it would be handy for my situation.

nesf From: nesf Date: May 31st, 2006 05:38 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: As an aside on the civil partnerships issue...

I'm Irish so my knowledge of British law on civil unions/marriages might be a bit off but I'm curious...

1. I don't want to be Mrs whoever.

Can you not keep your own name and refer to yourself as such? I know my partner has no intention of taking my name when we marry. Mostly down to her having been published academically and the trouble with changing a surname and also down to her simply not wanting to change her name.

2. I have a personal identity and I don't want it determined by whomever I choose to spend my life with.

Fair enough, but is your identity really that affected if you do as above and keep your own name? There are times when you would either have to (or benifit from) presenting yourself and himself as a being legally joined but in day to day life would it really change anything? You can keep seperate accounts (and at least over here you can keep tax etc seperate if you wish).

3. I don't have any interest in doing anthing 'in the eyes of the lord'.

A civil union shouldn't involve this. As in, over here it's messed up, you can't be legally wed outside of a registry office or by a Catholic priest. If you are COI or muslim or whatever you need to be wed in a registry outside of the ceremony for it to have legal standing. In the eyes of the state you are only married either by a Catholic priest or a registrar which is a good example of how messed up our constitution is...

4. I want to be with my partner but not one of his chattels. (Hasn't anyone on this thread heard any of the feminist/socialist arguments about marriage?)

This point I don't understand. Does civil union/marriage in the UK automatically create a situation where the women is subservant? If you choose to have children then one of you will have to stay at home for at least a few years (well no, but childcare almost cancels out the second wage here for most people). Unless it is the stigma you are talking about here?

Again back to Ireland, one of the most amusing things of late has been the very quiet ignoring of a certain part of the constitution. The line saying that the state will protect the woman's right to stay in the home... It's either been changed or is in the process of being changed but I thought you might be amused by it given your point above. Even over here in "backwards Catholic Ireland" point 4 has been eroded. Stay at home husbands, if not popular, are becoming a definite option for a lot of people. There is a cultural stigma still attached to a woman not staying at home but it has been dying over the past number of years.
olysprout From: olysprout Date: May 31st, 2006 07:50 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: As an aside on the civil partnerships issue...

The UK situation as far as I know is....

1) There's nothing to say that you have to take your partners name, either party can choose to take the others name, or double barrel, or pretty much whatever.

2) See pt.1, you can still be known as pretty much whoever you want.

3) A civil ceremony cannot mention anything religious at all. There's the famous stories of Robbie Williams' Angels being banned, I know for a fact that even mentioning the word soul has had to be fought for.
jonnynexus From: jonnynexus Date: June 1st, 2006 08:33 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: As an aside on the civil partnerships issue...

I'm really not prepared to get into a debate about what anyone thinks about my beliefs. I don't tell anyone else what to believe and certainly no-one on this thread is going to change my mind. I've been a socialist for far too long for that! My beliefs are my beliefs and that is that. Think they are kooky if you want... I simply thought I'd register my disagreement since most times I find we're on the same track generally.

Well I don't know that we're that far apart. I would have real problems with having a church wedding, but I guess I see civil marriage as simply a civil partnership sponsored by the state. Having said that, I can see that it does carry a lot of baggage (such as adultery being a "breach of contract", something which some people might not want).

So I'm not averse to having a tiered setup. It's just the lack of consent thing I find problematic.


If the scheme goes ahead, a reasonably well-off woman who allows a penniless bloke to move in with her will, after 23 months, find herself either having to effectively enter into a marriage with him (i.e. if they break up she'll have to sell her home and give him a proportion of the money), or kick him out. I just don't think that's right. I think she (and he) should have the right to decide when their relationship moves to "the next stage".

Yes, it would avoid a lot of hardship and pain and suffering, but that's true of a lot of the restrictions by the state on our rights and freedoms that are proposed.

As for me, if it goes ahead it will feel a bit like I have until November next year to either marry my other half or end it. Now I'm a guy who's into commitment, so that's not a thing that worries me - but I resent the idea of the government dictating the timetable of my relationship.

It just seems a weird thing that from the moment one person says to another "Why don't you move in with me?" a two-year countdown will start, whether they want it or not.
matgb From: matgb Date: May 31st, 2006 09:52 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: As an aside on the civil partnerships issue...

That's pretty much the rationale NuLab used. I had a very scary moment when listening to the debates during the progress of the bill; Norman Tebbit proposed something, and I agreed with him completely.

I see no reason why non-sexual relationships couldn't have legal standing in some way. Flatmates, long term friends, etc, could declare themselves "next of kin", etc without being gay/straight. That makes sense to me.

Personally, I favour the ability to make short term renewable contracts in place of marriage, 5 years or so, with provisions for any kids/asset transfers, etc drawn up.

Doubt we'll ever see anything truly innovative unfortunately.
olysprout From: olysprout Date: May 31st, 2006 04:45 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Personally, I don't agree with you on this issue...

I'll echo Jonny and ask exactly what the differences between signing a civil register like homosexuals can and marriage would be?
nesf From: nesf Date: May 31st, 2006 05:16 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Personally, I don't agree with you on this issue...

Are your issues with a civil marriage simply down to the fact that the word marriage is in it? That would strike me as extremely odd tbh. Or is it the actual union itself that you have issues with? The laws surrounding it etc.
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 1st, 2006 08:37 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Personally, I don't agree with you on this issue...

I have similar views to marriage to yourself but my situation is slightly different.

I own my home and my girlfriend moved in with me. She does not contribute financially to my mortgage, nor to the running costs of the property.

Should these proposals become law as I understand them; my partner would become entitled to a proportion of the value of my assets.

I love my patner dearly but should we separate, I don't agree that she should automatically gain something that I worked had for several years before we met to buy.

olysprout From: olysprout Date: May 31st, 2006 04:44 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've pondered for a long time about those people who want rights but won't get married. If you're heterosexual and you want the rights then they're there for you. What exactly would the difference to marriage be other than the name?

However might some of it boil down to the reasons that are allowed to trigger a divorce, in particular infidelity? Suppose a heterosexual couple have an open relationship but want the rights that marriage give and get married. One party then wants out ASAP and uses infidelity as the reason, they could even try to name the other person in court and get them to help pay costs.

Might it help if adultery was just wrapped up into unreasonable behaviour? If a couple can be shown to have had an open relationship then "just" adultery can't be unreasonable, if it turns into a full relationship then it clearly would be unreasonable.

Oh and I think we should drop those homosexual civil partnerships and just allow any couple that love each other and want the commitment to get married. Other than, if I'm correct, that they do ignore adultery they're the same thing and seem to exist only to avoid annoying the bigots out there.
matgb From: matgb Date: May 31st, 2006 10:25 pm (UTC) (Link)


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