Cohabitation Law Reform – Messages From Research
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- Barlow, A. Feminist Legal Stud (2006) 14: 167. doi:10.1007/s10691-006-9026-x
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Empirical research in this field has underlined the diversity of the cohabitation population, the existence of the common law marriage myth and the lack of consensus on the best way forward for reform of the law in England and Wales. Against the backdrop of the English Law Commission’s on-going project on cohabitation law, this article will explore the reasons found by recent research for people’s choice of cohabitation over marriage, the interrelationship between commitment and economic vulnerability and the tension in feminist debates as to whether an extension of rights for opposite-sex cohabitants that are analogous to married spouses (either by an opt-in model or opt-out model) might be an appropriate solution or a reinforcement of patriarchal marriage values. It will also consider, given recent research findings and other initiatives aimed at raising awareness about the legal differences between different styles of cohabitation relationship, law’s dual and conflicting role in shaping regulated family structures whilst both protecting vulnerable family members inside and outside such structures and at the same time also offering socially acceptable standards of dispute resolution in this most personal of spheres.