How is relationship defined?
There are many degrees of relationship in which intermarriage is forbidden by law. These relationships are usually grouped into two categories:
(a) blood relations (consanguinity)
(b) non-blood relations but where the relationship is so close that a ban on intermarriage is still imposed (affinity).
Note: an adopted child is generally treated in law as a blood relative.
A man cannot marry
his adopted daughter.
A woman cannot marry
her adopted son.
In general a man or woman cannot marry; a stepchild, a son or daughter-in-law.
However, in the affinity category, the prohibitions on intermarriage are not always absolute. After the sudden death of your wife, you found it difficult to cope with your job as well as having to look after your two small children. Your wife’s sister, who is a divorcee, came to live in your house to assist you with the housekeeping. You have now fallen in love with her and you both decide that you would like to get married. What is the position?
An Act of Parliament allows brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law to marry.
So marriages in the affinity category can be allowed in certain, tightly circumscribed circumstances: for example, a step-parent can marry a step-child provided only that the step-child
• has not been brought up as a ‘child of the family’, and
• is over 21.
The marriage must be voluntary
Where a person has gone through a ceremony of marriage because of coercion, the law holds that that person has not given proper consent to the marriage. Among certain ethnic and religious groups, it is common practice for the parents to arrange marriages for their children. Is an arranged marriage regarded as a ‘voluntary union’? In general, the law does not interfere with arranged marriages. However the issue has become a problem when there is a conflict between the wishes of the parents and those of the child. If the conflict is grave, the courts may be called upon to assess the point at which parental and social pressures overstep an acceptable limit and become unacceptable duress. The distinction to be drawn, not always an easy one, is between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage. Thus the courts have found instances of duress where there is
• a threat of injury to life or liberty, or
• a child is threatened with expulsion from home and community.
In a recent case, the court was to asked to intervene where parents had taken their 17-year-old daughter abroad so that she could be married against her will: The judge said: ‘Child abduction is still child abduction when both parents are the abductors and the child is very nearly an adult.’ He called on social workers and schools to be more interventionist in implementing their duty of care in protecting girls in such instances while being aware of the need to be sensitive to the needs of ethnic minorities in which arranged marriages are common practice.