Family Dynamics in Arranged Marriages and the Law
Love marriages have become more common in recent years but the prevalence of arranged marriages within the Asian community still varies and is largely influenced by the level of tradition upheld by families. Various issues can arise from arranged marriages, which are not as common in love marriages, such as the bride having to live with her in-laws or the demand for a dowry. These common themes can create issues within family dynamics and can cause the parties involved to be bullied or coercively controlled.
The topic of arranged marriage was discussed from personal and legal perspectives in a ‘Faith and Family Law’ webinar hosted by law firm, Irwin Mitchell, in which ASPN founder, Aruna, participated.
Validity of marriage
Sangeeta Kohli, Family Law Solicitor, shed some light on the validity of an arranged marriage. If a marriage takes place within the requirements of England and Wales then it will be a valid marriage but if a marriage is conducted simply as a religious ceremony then you face the issue of an invalid marriage. If only a religious ceremony was conducted then the legal options available to the parties are very different.
Marriage in England and Wales has to be supported by a civil ceremony to be valid and the requirements for it are that the bride and groom are 18 or over, not already married or in a civil partnership, and they are not closely related. The marriage must be conducted by, or in the presence of, a person who is authorised to register marriages.
If a marriage takes place abroad, in accordance with the laws of that country, the legal position in England and Wales is that we would consider that to be valid.
Family dynamics and common issues
It’s common for the bride to live with her in-laws for some time following weddings although people are living less with families if they can afford to. Too much involvement from the in-laws within the marriage of those from the Asian community is a prevalent theme and these family dynamics can have an impact on finances and child arrangements.
Issues that can arise from in-law interference can be problems with child arrangements, not just overstepping boundaries but trying to take the children away from the parent, as well as issues such as coercive control from a husband or wife, or members of the husband’s family.
If the other parent or their family members are using abuse to keep your children away from you, you should obtain advice from a solicitor to come up with a child arrangement that is safe for you and your child. A Child Arrangements Order will be set out by the Family Court which states who the child will live with, and when, as well as who the child will spend time with, or have contact with, and when. If the other party in the marriage, or their family members, fails to comply with the order, the court can make an enforcement order.
An agreement for child arrangement between parents can also be reached through mediation, which is an alternative to family court, although this is not appropriate if you have experienced domestic abuse (Rights of Women).
Coercive control in arranged marriages
Aruna discussed that people in arranged marriages can face issues such as “bullying, interference from in-laws, a lack of privacy and constant criticism”. She then went on to share her own story of her two arranged marriages, one of which ended due to the in-laws throwing her out because of the dowry not being enough.
Issues discussed by Aruna fall under the term ‘coercive control’ which is a form of domestic abuse. Coercive control is an act, or a pattern of acts, of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation that abusers use to harm, punish or frighten survivors. It is a purposeful pattern of behaviour and it can take place within an intimate or familial relationship (Refuge).
The Crown Prosecution Service provides a comprehensive list of behaviours of a coercive control abuser which include:
- Isolating a person from their friends and family
- Monitoring their time
- Depriving them of their basic needs
- Repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless
- Preventing a person from learning or using a language, or making friends, outside of their ethnic or cultural background
- Family ‘dishonour’
- Withholding and/or destruction of the victim’s immigration documents such as passports and visas
This is only a small number of the examples, to read the whole list see the CPS website.
Another challenge which can arise due to an arranged marriage or cohabiting with the in-laws is losing control of your possessions or money. This is also known as economic or financial abuse, and it is a pattern of controlling, threatening and degrading behaviour that restricts a victim’s freedom (Women’s Aid), and it is also an aspect of coercive control. Financial abuse restricts access to essential resources and can prevent the abused party from leaving because they feel they have no choice but to stay.
Coercive control and child arrangements can be addressed from a legal perspective, and if you are affected by these issues then there are various ways to deal with them such as reporting them to the police, getting a court order or getting help from a charity or another organisation such as Refuge National Domestic Abuse Helpline, Victim Support or Men’s Advice Line.
Not all arranged marriages face these negative family dynamics and issues, however, it’s crucial to understand what challenges may arise, as well as any legal implications that can occur, to ensure that your rights and wellbeing are protected.
Watch Irwin Mitchell’s ‘Faith and Family Law’ webinar on YouTube to find out more about other cultural and religious aspects of relationships and divorce.
Please note this article aims to raise awareness and provide general information on legal aspects which can arise in arranged marriages. If you need legal help and advice then it is best to consult a qualified solicitor.
Crown Prosecution Service: https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/controlling-or-coercive-behaviour-intimate-or-family-relationship
Men’s Advice Line: https://mensadviceline.org.uk