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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: March 2021

One - Introduction


In recent years, there has been a rise in both the number of cohabiting couples and those entering into religious-only marriages in England and Wales. Cohabitants are the fastestgrowing relationship type, numbering 3.4 million (ONS, 2019), while up to 60 per cent of Muslim couples marrying are thought to be in religious-only marriages (True Vision, 2017). Although these relationship types are conceptually different, with the parties having divergent motivations and beliefs, in both cases the result is all too often inadequate legal protection when the relationship ends, with those who have gone through a religious-only marriage generally having no more rights than those who have gone through no ceremony at all. Despite this shared legal framework, the linkages and overlaps between these two groups have largely been ignored in research, literature and government policy responses. This volume is the first to bring together scholars working in both areas to explore the complexities of the law, the different ways in which individuals experience and navigate the legal framework, and the potential paths for law reform.

This range of intersecting issues is explored by authors at the forefront of current research, providing a unique overview of this complex and controversial area. Each author proposes evidence-based law reform, responding to the need for research-led policy recommendations in this area. The issue of Muslim religious-only marriages, in particular, has drawn responses from campaigners seeking to protect women from poor outcomes on relationship breakdown. These legitimate efforts to influence policy need to be seen in the context of the more wide-ranging evidence gathered from a broad spectrum of participants, as well as the equally poor outcomes suffered by women in cohabiting relationships.

We begin by examining wedding law, outlining when a marriage should be considered valid, void or not recognized at all (Probert, Chapter Two). The volume then goes on to look at the legal treatment of couples in informal relationships, whether a religious-only marriage, a relationship preceded by some non-formal ceremony, or cohabitation without any ceremony (Miles, Chapter Three), and the assumptions held by cohabitants and those in religious-only marriages in the light of their ‘lived experiences’ (Barlow, Chapter Four).

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