Family Law

This information is for the 2018/19 session.

Teacher responsible

Miss Sarah Trotter


This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law and LLB in Laws. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit. This course is available to General Course students.

Course content

Family Law is about the formation of family relationships, about the regulation of these relationships, and about what happens if they break down. It is as much about the idea of the ‘family’ in law as it is about the (often distinct) lived reality of family life. One of the central themes of the course in this regard is the hold that the heteronormative idea of the family (a married heterosexual couple with genetically-related children) continues to have despite social changes ranging from the rise in cohabiting couple families (who have not formalised their relationship through marriage or civil partnership) to developments in the field of assisted reproduction that challenge the idea of the heterosexual couple model. The course addresses fundamental questions about why family law is as it is, about the role of the State in relation to family life, and about how family life should be regulated.

The structure of the course is as follows:

In the MT, we begin by exploring the concept of the ‘family’ and the role of the State in relation to the family. We then move on to focus on adult family relationships. We look at the options that exist for formalising relationships (marriage or civil partnership), the history of these forms of regulation, and the role of law where these relationships break down (the law of divorce/dissolution and financial remedies). We examine what these structures of relationship regulation tell us about how the notions of equality and autonomy are imagined in contemporary family law. We end the term by studying the law of domestic violence and the role of human rights in family law.

The LT is all about children and child-parent relationships. The term is introduced with a week on the history of child law, following which we move on to questions of legal parenthood and parental responsibility. We then examine the centrality and meaning of the principle of the child’s ‘best interests’ in family law and the position of the child in the case of parental separation. The sorts of questions that arise in this context are questions about contact and living arrangements for the child and about what happens if, for example, one of the parents wants to relocate to the other side of the world. We then move to the realm of local authority involvement and look at child protection proceedings and then adoption. In the final part of the LT we look at children’s rights in contemporary family law and we conclude with a session on European and international family law.


20 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the MT. 20 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT. 2 hours of lectures and 1 hour of classes in the ST.

Week 6 of MT and LT will be reading weeks.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce at least 1 essay in the MT and 1 essay in the LT. Additional optional essays will be set at the end of the MT and the LT

Indicative reading

Students will be provided with a detailed syllabus and reading list for each topic. The recommended textbooks are Sonia Harris-Short, Joanna Miles and Rob George, Family Law: Text, Cases and Materials (3rd edn, 2015, Oxford University Press) and Jonathan Herring, Family Law (8th edn, 2017, Pearson), and students may usefully consult either of these throughout the course. The core reading for each class will be based on articles and cases, and links to these will be provided on the course Moodle page.

To get a sense of the subject of family law prior to commencing the course, or for a different perspective on some of the main issues that we discuss during the course, students may also find it helpful to consult Rob George, Ideas and Debates in Family Law (2012, Hart Publishing) and/or Jonathan Herring, Rebecca Probert and Stephen Gilmore, Great Debates in Family Law (2nd edn, 2015, Palgrave Macmillan).


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours, reading time: 15 minutes) in the summer exam period.

Students may take unannotated, unmarked statutes into the exam.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2017/18: 12

Average class size 2017/18: 11

Capped 2017/18: Yes (15)

Lecture capture used 2017/18: Yes (MT)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills