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From Mrs. Burns to Mrs. Oxley: Do Co-habiting Women (Still) Need Marriage Law?

By Anne Bottomley

Abstract

Following the U.K. Labour government commitment to marriage in the 1998 Green Paper 'Supporting Families', Barlow and Duncan produced a robust critique calling for 'realism' in recognising that many couples are now choosing not to marry, that too many do not make informed decisions as to whether to msrry or not and that, on the basis of their survey, over 40% of respondents believed that some form of family law protection would be available to them, despite their lack of marital status. When this is added to a concern that economically vunerable cohabiting women do not recieve adequate protection in property law, it seems all too obvious that the governmental policy does seem to have shifted somewhat when, partly as a tactical manoeuvre to help the passage of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and specifically recognising concerns with the needs of economically vunerable parties, the issue was referred to the Law Commission for England and Wales. This places the 'realism' arguments firmly within the reform agenda. However, this article argues that there is a need to look more closely at the arguments used by the 'realists', in particular at the evocation of the figure of Mrs. Burns. The more contemporary case of Oxley v. Hiscock is used to both raise questions about the socio-economic profiles of cohabitants, as well to question the presentation of property law as failing women (and family law as offering the protection they need). I argue that feminists should take a cautious approach in relation to the seemingly compelling argument that cohabitants will benefit from the extension of aspects of marriage law to cover property issues at the end of a relationship

Topics: K
Publisher: Springer
Year: 2006
OAI identifier: oai:kar.kent.ac.uk:752

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