The traditional view of marriage has come into the spotlight again as three men in Columbia have officially recorded that they are living together as a ‘throuple’.
A romantic relationship that involves more than two parties who are mutually and equally committed to each other is sometimes referred to as being ‘polyamorous’. In a polyamorous ‘marriage’, if such a legal arrangement were to exist, then multiple parties of three, four or more people would enter into direct legal commitments with each of the other parties in the relationship. This would be different to a polygamous marriage where one party, for example a husband, has multiple wives but there is no direct legal relationship between those wives.
Marriages entered into in the UK between more than two people are not legal. However, the UK will recognise a marriage between more than two people if that marriage was legal in the country it took place. Polygamous marriages are legal in some countries and England will recognise them. Now, polyamorous relationships appear to be receiving some formal recognition in some countries. In 2013, two women and a man in Brazil were allowed to form a three way civil union recognising and protecting their equal rights and contributions to their family life. The Columbian ‘throuple’ appear to have achieved something similar. They have apparently managed to secure a document which formally recognises their relationship although not as a ‘marriage’ in the legal sense as it remains illegal to marry more than one person in Columbia. Nonetheless this could be a move towards legitimising such unions which could be very important if, on death or relationship breakdown, rights need to be established in relation to assets such as property and pensions.
In both the Brazilian and Columbian cases, the parties involved have argued that their relationship is not anything new or unusual and that the formalisation they have achieved simply recognises their existing family life and the rights that should be protected within that.
The concept of marriage and relationships may continue to change and evolve. The definition of marriage in the UK has changed in recent years and particularly following the introduction of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act in 2013. Whilst a polyamorous marriage may not be on the cards any time soon, anyone living in a non-traditional relationship (which would be regarded as cohabitation under English law and so give very few rights), should take steps to understand and protect their position with regards to property, financial support and inheritance particularly if children are involved.
Emma Nash is an Associate at IFLG. She provides clients with advice and support in relation to a comprehensive range of family law issues including child maintenance, financial provision on divorce, and financial claims by cohabiting couples.
The International Family Law Group LLP
© 25 July 2017