Welcome to the Online Resources for Family Law: Text, Cases, and Materials.

This short guide is intended to help you make the most of the book and accompanying Online Resources.

The structure of each chapter and its Online Resources

With the exception of chapter 1, each chapter begins with a Central Issues feature, designed to alert you to the key themes that we shall be exploring in the pages that follow.  At the end of each chapter, we direct you to the relevant pages of the Online Resources, where you will find:

  • questions to consider about the material that you have just read about
  • further resources supplementing the material in the book
  • in the case of some chapters, text and materials covering some less central issues for which we had no space in the book, but which we think some readers may be interested to read about.
  • You will also occasionally find references to supporting materials on the Online Resources in the middle of chapters, flagged up by the following symbol:

    Text, cases, and materials...

    As the title of the book suggests, this is more than just a textbook. Each chapter contains a lot of conventional textbook-style exposition and discussion of the law by us. But in order to gain a full, nuanced understanding of the law, it is important that you don’t just read what we think the law is and what we think about the law. It is important that you read the law for yourself and examine the views of other commentators.

    Like most other areas of the law of England and Wales, family law derives from two main sources:

  • primary and secondary legislation
  • judgments from reported cases
  • In our experience, students are often a bit lazy about reading the law for themselves, particularly statute law! But it is really important that you don’t skip the ‘cases and materials’ part of this book, for two reasons:

    First, one of the objectives of your law degree (as a whole) is to acquire the key skills of a lawyer – learning how to read cases and legislation is a vital part of the lawyer’s skill-set.

    Second, you can’t gain a proper understanding of family law (or any other part of the law, for that matter) without engaging for yourself with the primary sources of that law. And we think that’s where the really interesting aspects of the subject are to be found.

    Reading legislation takes you through the detailed nuts and bolts of an area of law. Several fields of family law are heavily statute-based, especially in the public law areas (child protection: ch 12, adoption, ch 13) and regarding domestic abuse (ch 4). You can’t get by without being familiar with the legislation!

    Family case law, most commonly the decisions of the Court of Appeal and House of Lords/Supreme Court, performs three main functions:

  • interpreting the statutory provisions that you’ve just been reading
  • illustrating judicial decision-making in those areas of family law which depend heavily on the exercise of judicial discretion
  • developing those parts of law relating to the family which remain based in common law/equity.
  • All three types of judgment provide you with a rich tapestry of argument and viewpoints on the law, the starting point for much academic writing in the area. Inevitably, we have had to be selective about which extracts from the judgments we present to you in the book. Very often, particularly with the most important cases, it will be worth your while finding the full case report for yourself online or in the library fully to appreciate the judges’ reasoning.

    And that brings us on to one of the other main types of material in the book: academic commentaries and research findings. There are very many contrasting perspectives on family law – feminist studies, men’s studies, human rights, and so on – which is one reason why we enjoy teaching and writing about it so much. We provide you with a flavour of many of those different perspectives and of some of the perennial themes in family law in chapter 1 of the book and expand on those with the assistance of various academic commentaries on the Online Resources. The subject matter of each chapter can be analysed from the standpoint of several of those schools of thought or in terms of those themes. We hope that looking at family law through the very different eyes of various commentators will make the subject matter all the more interesting for you. Some of that discussion is informed by evidence about the impact of law in real world and about the people to whom the law applies gathered and analysed in the course of empirical research in family law and related issues.

    A critical take on family law is also central to thinking about law reform, and so we also include a number of extracts from Law Commission papers and other reform bodies,. Looking at Law Commission recommendations that have led to reforming legislation can help understand the intention behind those reforms. Reading recommendations which have not (yet) been implemented can offer food for thought about the current law. Parliamentary materials, such as extracts from Hansard’s verbatim records of debates on Bill can also be very illuminating, and so we include some of those as well.

    We provide some further guidance on how to tackle case law in family law (which is quite different from many other areas of law) and how to approach legislation, particularly bearing in mind the impact of the Human Rights Act, on the Online Resources pages for chapter 1.