Relationship Breakdown and Lacuna in Civil Law

By | January 22, 2022
Relationship Breakdown

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Relationship breakdown has the potential to have negative effects on one’s social, economic, and physical health. A legal conflict, it should not come as a surprise, is often associated with negative outcomes and results in additional issues during the breakdown process. Read the article titled ‘Relationship Breakdown and Lacuna in Civil Law’ only on Legal Bites.

The age gap in socioeconomic status between married and cohabiting people was revealed to be the most significant factor. Once the effects of age were taken into account, there was no discernible difference in the stability of partnerships. Relationships, in any form, tended to be more stable when children were present. There was evidence that many of these problems stemmed from past relationships among cohabiting couples with children, although this was not the case for all of the couples.

When a relationship breaks down, it frequently leads to negative outcomes like illness, unemployment, homelessness, or domestic violence. There were more negative repercussions for single parents than for parents who had reunited with their children while they didn’t have a resident child, with the stress-related illness being the most common.


Over the past few decades, there have been significant changes in the kind of relationships that people develop. More and more couples are living together before getting married, and they are doing so for longer periods of time as well. After a divorce, a growing number of spouses are moving in together with new partners. Rather than remarry, some couples appear to be cohabiting.[1] A quarter of all children born today are the result of cohabiting parents, with over 40% of all children being born outside of marriage.

Even among family lawyers, it is commonly acknowledged that family law has only kept pace with the social convergence of marriage and cohabitation to a limited degree.[2] In some areas, such as child care, social security, and tax credits, cohabitants are treated the same as married couples.

When it comes to financial repercussions of relationship breakdown and death, however, the law continues to distinguish between cohabiting and married couples. Even with a recent Law Commission report[3] and a Private Member’s Bill by Lord Lester of Herne Hill with the support of the Odysseus Trust and Resolution in December 2008, the legal status of cohabiting couples continues to be a hot topic.

In order to better understand and compare the characteristics of married and cohabiting couples, researchers must delve deeper into demographic data, such as how their socio-economic circumstances compare; do they manage their money in the same way; how stable are their relationships, as well as how likely are their relationships to break down; how do they experience the law and legal system on relationship breakdown?[4]

The category ‘cohabitation‘, in particular, is recognized to contain a wide range of relationship forms and behaviours. In certain cases, there may be as many differences within each class as there are between them. Understanding the factual responses to these kinds of issues is critical for informing policy development to accommodate people in all forms of relationships.[5]

Analysis of Relationship Breakdown

Relationship breakdown has the potential to have negative effects on one’s social, economic, and physical health. A legal conflict, it should not come as a surprise, is often associated with negative outcomes and results in additional issues during the breakdown process.

Lone parents and other respondents with children in their homes face a wide range of consequences and challenges supplementary to the dissolution of the partnership that is distinct from each other.

Physical and stress-related poor health, as well as increased damage to property, needing to relocate, loss of income, and loss of confidence, were considerably more prevalent among lone parents than among couples. As a result of the problem, there are no significant differences in the rates of violence directed.[6] Differences are also found in the types of issues that people encountered.

The issues that were ancillary to marital dissolution, compared to those who were married or living with someone else. They also had higher issues with residency and contact. According to those who have children, acquiring maintenance (or child support) is the most common challenge they face.

Before the dissolution of the relationship, several non-family issues arise, including consumer, neighbours, physical injury, homelessness, money/debt, discrimination, and mental health issues. A breakdown was more likely to cause consumer and money/debt issues, followed by issues with neighbours and the job market, as well as issues with owning or renting a home, receiving public assistance, or being homeless themselves. Much of the recent political discussion on family policy has emphasized that the married relationship form is essential to a happy and healthy family.

But these statistics show that age and socioeconomic circumstances, not the sort of relationship per se, are important factors contributing to the collapse of relationships, advancement (or not) to marriage, and the experience of civil law problems. It is seen that marriage and cohabitation that are not age-standardized and/or adjusted for other demographic characteristics inherently fail to provide a reliable viewpoint on the importance of relationship status, tending to over-emphasize apparent positive connections with marriage.

Instead, as evidenced by the aforementioned information as well as additional ones. Even though cohabiters are more likely to have negative socioeconomic features, this is largely due to their younger age profile (though not totally), according to surveys.[7] Because of their lower socioeconomic status and younger age, they are more likely to experience a breakup in a relationship.[8]

They also show how important it is for different sorts of cohabitants (based on age, whether they have children or are separated or divorced) to be differentiated within cohabitation. Aside from the fact that relationship status is connected with visible differences, we don’t know much about the effect that relationship status has (as opposed to personal qualities and commitment).

Disputes involving children can have a significant impact on their well-being, and the effects can be long-lasting. This suggests that non-resident parents may be particularly affected by contested contact/residence disputes, and not just those who have custody of their kids.[9]

A (smaller) majority of single parents with children in their custody reported unfavourable outcomes in these situations, however, it is worth noting that the experience of parents with children in their custody who had reunited with a partner was significantly less frequent. In contrast to the experience of non-resident parents, it appears that when parents with care re-partner, the chance of negative impact is reduced (though numbers were relatively small).

Civil law issues tend to be ‘clustered‘ within a select group of people. The failure of the FAInS pilot to affect change in family law practice[10] and the establishment of the new Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, which is intended to have the capacity to provide information and support on a range of family breakdown issues extending beyond child support and related benefits and tax credits, have renewed policy attention to this issue.[11]

While FAInS aims to give non-lawyers access to holistic guidance and information, the new Australian Family Relationship Centres’ experience will undoubtedly provide food for thought for policymakers in this jurisdiction.[12] However, it’s not apparent what the optimal method of distribution is for holistic guidance.[13]

Last but not least, two new findings from the Civil and Social Justice Survey deserve attention. For example, a new continuous survey gives more data that could allow deeper investigation into many of the concerns discussed in this previous debate; it offers two times more data and includes questions regarding respondents’ intentions to marry and engagements.


In the long run, it is hoped that the CSJS will be transformed into a longitudinal panel survey, with the same respondents being interviewed and re-interviewed at regular intervals. Relationship breakdown, long-term effects of legal problems and guidance, the interplay between the experience of civil justice problems and relationship status, as well as relationship status and changes in relationship status, could be better understood with this additional data. It is not unexpected that lone parents are the most likely to have family-related civil law issues, according to a poll cited in this article.[14]

A comparison of the experiences of different lone parents based on their former relationship status before to being a lone parent is not possible due to the limited sample size of this survey (i.e. whether married, cohabiting, or neither). It’s possible that such an analysis may be done in the new and larger continuous civil justice survey and the longitudinal sample.

[1] Law Commission, 2006, ‘Part 2: The Changing Social Context – Social Trends’ Cohabitation: The Financial Consequences of Relationship Breakdown, Law Com CP 179.

[2] A. Barlow, C. Burgoyne, E. Clery and J. Smithson, 2008, ‘Cohabitation and the Law: myths, money and the media’ in A. Park et al (eds), British Social Attitudes: the 24th Report.

[3] Law Commission, 2007, Cohabitation: The Financial Consequences of Relationship Breakdown, Law Com 307.

[4] S. Arthur, J. Lewis, M. Maclean, with S. Finch and R. Fitzgerald, 2000, Settling Up: making financial arrangements after divorce and separation (National Centre for Social Research).

[5] P. Pleasance, N. Balmer, 2011, ‘The Experience of Relationship Breakdown and Civil Law Problems by People in Different Forms of Relationship’.

[6] P. Pleasence et al, 2003, ‘Family Problems – What Happens and To Whom – Findings from the LSRC Survey of Justiciable Problems’.

[7] J. Haskey, 1999, ‘Cohabitational and marital histories of adults in Great Britain’, 96 Population Trends 13.

[8] Ibid.

[9] DWP, 2006, A new system of child maintenance, Cm 6979.

[10] The Family Advice and Information Service: A Changing Role for Family Lawyers in England and Wales?

[11] Lord McKenzie of Luton, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Department for Work and Pensions) during the House of Lords debates on the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill: Hansard.

[12] P. Parkinson, 2007, ‘Reengineering the Child Support Scheme: An Australian Perspective on the British Government’s Proposals’.

[13] P. Pleasence, 2006, Causes of Action: Civil Law and Social Justice.

[14] Ibid.

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Author: Simran Kang

Symbiosis Law School, Pune

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