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Cohabitation Laws Criticised in Review of Scots Family Law

The Scottish Government recently published a review of Scots family law. The study considered the way the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 has worked in practice in the ten years since it was introduced.

The Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 is one of the major pieces of family law legislation. It introduced rights for cohabitants and reformed the rights of unmarried fathers in Scotland. When the act was passed into law it was commended for modernising Scots family law and recognising the way the family dynamics have changed over time. However, many solicitors and stakeholder groups have criticised the Act for being unclear, poorly drafted and not going far enough to reflect the realities of modern family life.

The review was led by the Convener of the Justice Committee, Christine Grahame MSP, and heard evidence from a broad range of interested parties, including members of the legal profession, politicians and pressure groups such as Families Need Fathers.

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Rise in Cohabitation

Family structures have changed dramatically over the past 40 years. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that whilst the married couple family remains the most common type of family in the UK, the cohabiting couple family is the fastest growing category. Between 2004 and 2014 the numbers of cohabiting families grew by almost 30%.

The rise in cohabitation has been coupled with a steady fall in divorce rates. The most recent ONS figures have shown that there were 114,720 divorces in England and Wales in 2013. This was a decrease of almost 3% compared to the previous year.

The ONS directly related the fall in divorce rates to the rise in couples deciding to cohabit rather than marry.

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Australia sees a growth in cohabitation

A recent report from Australia has provided an in-depth look at the changing dynamics of Australian families.

The AMP.NATSEM Income and Wealth Report Modern Family reveals that 78% of people apparently now cohabit before marriage, which is an increase of 72% compared to ten years ago. The past decade has also seen a drop in the nation’s annual marriage rate from 6.6 marriages per 1,000 people to 5.5.

AMP Chief Customer Officer Paul Sainsbury said today’s modern family is almost unrecognisable from the Mum, Dad and a couple of children households of recent decades.

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More children born out with marriage

The American Census Bureau has recently published a report that reveals a sharp increase in the number of children born to unmarried mothers. The report shows that in 2011, around 36% of babies were born to single mothers.

Susan Stewart, a sociologist at Iowa State University, suggests that this spike may be linked to the impact of the recent economic downturn.

“The recession has screwed up everything in terms of marriage and family patterns,” Stewart said. “Birth rates were down, marriage rates were down and divorce rates were down because of the recession.”

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