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The Changing Legal Regulation of Cohabitation
From Fornicators to Family, 1600–2010

Part of Law in Context

  • Date Published: July 2015
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107536302


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About the Authors
  • This book has three key aims: first, to show how the legal treatment of cohabiting couples has changed over the past four centuries, from punishment as fornicators in the seventeenth century to eventual acceptance as family in the late twentieth; second, to chart how the language used to refer to cohabitation has changed over time and how different terms influenced policy debates and public perceptions; and, third, to estimate the extent of cohabitation in earlier centuries. To achieve this it draws on hundreds of reported and unreported cases as well as legislation, policy papers and debates in Parliament; thousands of newspaper reports and magazine articles; and innovative cohort studies that provide new and more reliable evidence as to the incidence (or rather the rarity) of cohabitation in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England. It concludes with a consideration of the relationship between legal regulation and social trends.

    • A comprehensive overview of the law's treatment of cohabiting couples in this period
    • Provides new data on the extent of cohabitation before the twentieth century using newly available electronic resources
    • Helps readers understand terminology and reflects changing attitudes to cohabitation
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'Rebecca Probert's scholarly account of the law's response to heterosexual cohabitation over the past four centuries is both a very important contribution to cohabitation scholarship and a great pleasure to read … Probert displays great resourcefulness in her determination to clarify the difficult questions that she addresses.' John Mee, Legal Studies

    'This is an admirable book: lucid, hard-nosed, but wonderfully humane and sensitive throughout to the social context of the law. In a single paragraph, it can range from churchwardens' accounts to Carry On films, or from the seventeenth-century Ranters to the lyrics of Joni Mitchell. It deserves to be widely read by students and scholars of family law and history.' Faramerz Dabhoiwala, Canadian Family Law Quarterly

    '… this is a terrific book, a splendid contribution to the literature on the interaction between an important social phenomenon and law, and a powerful corrective to many legal and historical myths. It's meticulously researched, elegantly written, and a hugely entertaining read.' Rosemary Auchmuty, Journal of Legal History

    'Probert marshals an impressive array of quantitative and qualitative data, ranging from analyses of parish registers and sociological surveys of relationships, through popular literature, films and TV series, to legislation and caselaw.' David Lemmings, International Journal of Law in Context

    '… a truly fresh perspective on the legal regulation of cohabitation … The Changing Legal Regulation of Cohabitation makes an important contribution to the academic discourse in this area. This scholarly contribution is insightful, detailed and rigorously argued by the author. Furthermore, the book's contribution s also timely in light of the current debate surrounding the granting of statutory rights and remedies to cohabitants upon relationship breakdown. Therefore, within a specific field of the legal regulation of cohabitation, this book will undoubtedly have both considerable impact and also a wide readership.' Andrew Hayward, Cambridge Law Journal

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    Product details

    • Date Published: July 2015
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107536302
    • length: 300 pages
    • dimensions: 243 x 170 x 17 mm
    • weight: 0.52kg
    • contains: 5 b/w illus.
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    2. Fornicators: the punishment of illicit sex
    3. No name: law, morality and precedent
    4. Unmarried wives in war and peace
    5. Living in sin: concerns and changes
    6. 'Stable illicit unions': cohabitation and the reform of divorce law
    7. Common-law wives: the 1970s and the creation of a myth
    8. Live-in lovers: trying to get back to basics
    9. Partners: New Labour and neutrality
    10. Conclusion.

  • Author

    Rebecca Probert, University of Exeter
    Rebecca Probert is Professor of Law at the University of Warwick. She has taught family law for over a decade and published widely on both contemporary family law and its history.

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