07 February 2022 Issue 1 Helen Swire

It’s  complicated

As the definition of ‘family’ changes in the modern era, Helen Swire examines how practitioners and jurisdictions are adapting

The nature of the structure of a family has changed dramatically even since the birth of STEP in 1991, with the ‘traditional’ family of a married heterosexual couple and their biological children evolving to take into account questions of sexuality, divorce and remarriage, adoption, cohabitation and civil partnerships, multi‑ethnicity families, multi‑jurisdictional families and so on.

Although society may be keeping up with the changing definitions, for legal practice and legislation it is not so easy. The STEP report Meeting the Needs of Modern Families (the Modern Families report),[1] sponsored by TMF Group and released in November 2021, called on practitioners and legislators to adapt and modernise in order to support the needs of all family structures.

‘The make‑up of many modern families is increasingly complex, and while it has always been risky to follow a one‑size‑fits‑all approach when advising families, this is more the case now than ever before,’ says Charlie Tee TEP,[2] Chair of the STEP Modern Families Thought Leadership Steering Group. ‘One of the key issues for practitioners is to ensure that they fully understand the nature and relationships within the family they are advising and that need to be reflected in their estate planning and succession planning. It is up to the practitioner to help them navigate these inherent complexities to arrive at the most suitable structure or planning for each individual family.’

Marriage and children

The complexity for practitioners internationally, especially those operating cross‑border, is not limited to the structure of individual families. They must also take into account the different paces of change happening globally. Tee points to the notable example of same‑sex marriage, legalised in numerous jurisdictions but not recognised in some and even criminalised in others.[3]

‘It is of fundamental importance to understand that there are a lot of cultural, religious and social differences underpinning these differences between jurisdictions,’ he says. ‘What is considered acceptable in some jurisdictions is completely unacceptable elsewhere.’

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