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Women’s Power Book
Women’s Power Book
Women’s Power Book
Women’s Power Book
Women’s Power Book
‘Knowledge is power’
women's power
empowerment of women
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Private Arrangement or Public Commitment? Free to choose? Some people describe cohabitation as a rebellion against traditional family forms, striking a blow for freedom and independence. While some people do make a conscious choice to avoid marriage, others simply 'drift into' cohabitation. Many other people live together because it seems the best choice available at the time, even though they see it as far from ideal. Finances might influence people's choices. For many people, especially those in low-paid or irregular work, getting married can seem too expensive. The discrimination against marriage in the tax and benefits system means that some people are better off by keeping their relationships 'off the books'. Some people also fear that getting married is a high- risk gamble because no-fault divorce laws make it easier for a spouse to walk away from their commitment. More than 'just a piece of paper' Traditionally, marriage has had a special status in British law and society. Marriage developed as a way to provide stability for families and for all of society. Marriage is a declaration of commitment which has public as well as private consequences. It is an institution which offers benefits not only to the couples themselves but to society as a whole. When people marry, they commit themselves not only to being emotional and sexual partners, but also to taking care of each other-for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health. They promise to stick by each other through the ups and downs that occur in everyone's lives. This promise and the trust it builds encourage partners to make sacrifices for the good of the family. Traditionally, British government and society have supported the institution of marriage by giving it certain privileges and responsibilities, and by enforcing consequences for breaking marriage vows. A decrease in the number of marriages and an increase in cohabitation both have come in the wake of a large increase in divorce in the last thirty years. Some people argue that these trends are due to people being less willing to make commitments, or perhaps being more fearful that others will break their promises. The role of the State Although a good deal of evidence shows that cohabiting relationships have higher risks of poor outcomes, governmental and other official bodies continue to treat cohabitation and marriage as essentially the same. For example, the Lord Chancellor's department stated that 'the growing acceptance of long-term cohabitation as a preliminary or alternative to marriage' means that 'many such relationships must be at least as stable as marriage'. 21 Meanwhile, the Home Secretary Jack Straw takes the view that we 'shouldn't get in a paddy about the decline of formal marriage' and that 'the most important thing is the quality of the relationship, not the institution in itself'. 22 Some people argue that marriage should not receive any special recognition from the state. They claim that cohabitants should have the same legal rights and responsibilities which used to be reserved for marriage, from property rights to the right to take decisions about children's lives. Currently, when a married couple divorces, a court decides how to divide their property, based upon the needs of both spouses and any children they have. However, when a cohabiting couple break up, each person retains ownership of their own property. This system ensures that individuals who commit themselves to the institution of marriage have some legal protection. It also protects the freedom of those who choose to live with each other outside the bounds of marriage. The Solicitors Family Law Association and some other groups have called for extending the same marriage rights to cohabiting couples upon their break up. 23 However, this action would deprive people of their right to live together on their own terms. Furthermore, it would blur the already fuzzy distinction between cohabitation and marriage. Undermining the special status of marriage would weaken an option for people who want to make both a private and a public commitment. Although a marriage always requires two people, a divorce sometimes requires just one person, leaving the other in the cold. The state could help strengthen the institution of marriage by ending 'no-fault', non-consensual or unilateral divorce, and by introducing divorce settlements which penalise, rather than favour, the spouse who leaves or behaves badly.
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