Modern families in the UK come in all shapes and sizes.
A few hundred years ago, a family consisted of a mother, a father, and their children. Women were married off (often to a husband of their father’s choosing) when still teenagers, whereas the men they married may have been decades their senior.
Households were patriarchal, and the husband made all of the decisions. What took place in the home stayed in the home. Homosexuality was illegal, and people were imprisoned. Illegitimate children may well have been ostracised by society, and divorce was so rare and serious that an Act of Parliament was needed until the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 came into force.
Since then, times have changed. Women now have a voice equal to that of men in respect of the law (although this remains a hot political issue in societal treatment of the two genders). The State has taken a look into family arrangements, and intervened where there are issues of domestic violence or child abuse. Single or divorced parents (and their children) are held in no lower regard than their married counterparts. The concept of “legitimacy” has all but disappeared in the law and on the streets. Whilst there are still marriages that are arranged by the spouses’ parents in some cultures, there are laws to prohibit anyone from being married against their will, and injunctions can be obtained to prevent this happening to anyone in a vulnerable position. Same-sex couples can now marry, with the same rights and consequences as opposite-sex couples. There is also a growing number of ways for children to come into a family, including surrogacy, adoption (national and international), fostering, and the taking in of other minor relatives. IVF has enabled some couples to have biological children who would have previously been unable to, and recent amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 support ongoing research and development aimed to help parents have healthy babies.
Members of a family may not have the same skin colour, speak the same language, or live in the same house, but this doesn’t prevent them from being a family. There can be no parents or four parents, no children or twenty children, step-relatives, in-laws, half-relatives, grandparents, cousins, fiancés, ‘significant others’, spouses, ex-spouses, aunts, uncles, godparents, carers, foster-parents, siblings and pets. Your family is what you make of it. As Desmond Tutu said, “You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”
We at the Family Law Co understand families in all their variety. If you encounter any difficulties about the make-up of your family don’t hesitate to contact our Exeter and Plymouth solicitors.