In 1973, Bob Dorough told us in his Schoolhouse Rock hit that three is a magic number.  In that very same song, he also told us this:

A man and a woman had a little baby
Yes, they did
They had three in the family
And that's a magic number

It’s clear that 50 years later, the modern family has evolved dramatically from Mr Dorough’s presentation and increasingly, people of all generations are throwing off the perceived shackles of traditional family units and embracing an alternative arrangement known as Throupling.

It must be confessed that ‘Throuple’ is a word not previously written by this author. 

Alongside very many articles about alleged celebrity Throuples, a quick Google search reveals a number of definitions varying in complexity and, well, explicitness.  But I think for the purpose of this short post we can settle on this:  

A committed romantic relationship between three people. 

But what of family law and a Throuple?

As anyone who practices in this field would expect, like Blackadder’s asthmatic ant carrying heavy shopping, the law is struggling to keep up: it simply does not adequately reflect the myriad of different family structures we see now, Throuples included.  

Here are just a few family law considerations anyone in a Throuple should have in mind:

In this country, a Throuple cannot all marry each other or form a civil partnership.  But you knew that already.  Having more than one spouse is permitted in some countries and known as polygamy, but such a marriage is not recognised in England & Wales.  The Throuple itself would have no legal relationship akin to a marriage or civil partnership.

If none of you are married, no one would have any financial claims as of right against the others in the event of a separation and without children.  That said, you could all legally own property together and decide upon your respective beneficial interests in that property.   Many banks will also allow more than two people to hold a joint account.

If your Throuple is made up of a married couple and another person, and there are no children, the spouses could divorce with the full range of financial claims available to each of them.  The other would have no claims.  It is important to note one doesn’t establish claims simply by living together: the concept of a ‘common law marriage’ in this country is a myth. 

It gets more complicated if children are involved.  Financial claims can be made for the benefit of the child, but those claims can only be made by a legal parent against the other legal parent.  This is the case unless another person seeking to make those claims has a court order which states the child is to live with them.  Further, only specified individuals can make a court application regarding arrangements for a child (such as when they can spend time with the child or what school they might go to) as of right.  If you are not in that category – by not being a legal parent, for example - you would instead need to seek specific permission from the court to bring the application.  This is a particularly complex area, and specialist legal advice should be sought.

Consider putting in place both a parenting agreement in respect of any children, and a separate agreement, such as a cohabitation agreement, to govern financial arrangements in the event one or more of you wishes to leave the Throuple. 

It is clear from the above that the law has much ground to make up if it is to appropriately and adequately provide for separating Throuples.

Given the Government recently rejected proposals to create law that would protect those who cohabit (but do not marry or enter into a civil partnership), it seems there is little appetite for that progression.  

Turning back to Mr Dorough.  Perhaps he had a point that three is the magic number, just not in the way he probably expected …