Friday 14 December 2018

There is a growing demand for reform of the law relating to the rights of cohabiting couples and the legal formalities required for state recognised marriages.  Recent years have also seen considerable concern about the role of religious tribunals especially in dealing with the consequences of relationship breakdown.

This symposium brings together these two issues for the first time. It focuses on relationship breakdown where there is no state recognised marriage. This may include couples in a religious-only marriage, those whose ceremony was conducted by a non-religious belief organisation, those who are cohabiting, or a range of other relationship types which fall outside of the ambit of a state recognised marriage.  It also considers the role of religious tribunals where there is a state recognised marriage. For these and other relationship types, the questions of marriage formalities, divorce and financial provisions all arise and consequently, the informal solutions may not be particular to religious communities.

The symposium will focus on comparing the differing relationships and different solutions to relationship breakdown both legal and informal. For cohabiting couples, legal solutions are limited, and evidential burdens excessive. For Muslim couples in religious-only marriages, access to formal legal solutions is similarly limited. For those who have entered into a state recognised marriage as well as a religious one, there may be a double burden of duplicate divorce to match the duplicate marriage ceremonies.

Both legal and informal options need to be considered against the retreat of the state from the regulation of families. The lack of available and affordable legal advice for most family-related matters means recourse to informal online forums, raising questions about the accuracy of knowledge regarding rights.  Cuts in legal aid remove legal options for many, while the legal route, where available, perpetuates inequality by being overly formal.

The issue of gender inequality and agency in family law and family practice also arises. Where informal dispute resolution is concerned, Shariah Councils stand accused of perpetuating gender inequality in both access to services (payment of fees by mainly women users) and the Islamic principles being applied. Where financial outcomes for cohabitants are concerned, there is a comparable gender imbalance of the financial impact upon relationship breakdown. The issue of cultural norms and transitions including the evolving nature of the ‘family’ questions the adequacy of the current family law regime in England and Wales. This symposium seeks to propose a far-reaching range of legal solutions which can be used as the basis for a change in the law.


Dr Rajnaara Akhtar (De Montfort University)

Dr Patrick Nash (The Woolf Institute, University of Cambridge)

Prof Rebecca Probert (Exeter University)

Prof Russell Sandberg (Cardiff University)

Expected Outputs

A high-impact collection of accessible policy essays




Event Information


UPDATED Programme


Speakers Profiles


Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London, 17 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DR