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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

19 DEC 2006

Cohabitation Law Reform and its Impact on Marriage

Kathleen Kiernan, Professor of Social Policy and Demography University of York, Anne Barlow, Professor of Family Law and Policy, University of Exeter and Rosangela Merlo, RPR Consulting, Australia and formerly Research Assistant, Australian National University. One of the key debates surrounding the possible extension of marriage-equivalent rights and responsibilities to informally cohabiting couples is whether this would undermine the institution of marriage. The argument runs that if you can get all the benefits of marriage without actually formally marrying, then it logically follows that fewer people will marry and marriage (and family stability) will be undermined. But is the relationship between law reform and marriage rates such a direct one? Are people deciding whether to marry or cohabit reacting to legal incentives? Or are other forces at work? In order to try and unpack this relationship, some analysis of the marriage rates in Australian states before and after legislation extending the rights and obligations of marriage to de facto relationships was undertaken. Australian states have broadly taken a functional approach to family regulation, with cohabiting couples being treated in the same way as equivalent married couples on relationship breakdown (see R Bailey Harris, Dividing the Assets of the Unmarried Family Recent Lessons from Australia [2000] IFL 90). See December [2006] Fam Law for the full article.

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