Family Law

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr 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 a fascinating and important area of law, not only because it is about the regulation of our most intimate relationships and about the effect of this regulation on those relationships, but also because it tells us a great deal about the society in which we live and the State. It is a brilliant time to be studying family law in this respect: in the past year alone civil partnerships have been extended to opposite-sex couples, landmark judgments have been handed down in areas ranging from the law of marriage to legal parenthood, and the Law Commission has embarked on a review of surrogacy law. And that is before we come to other significant developments, such as those in relation to assisted reproduction techniques and enabling embryos to be created using the DNA of three people, calls for civil partnership to be extended to cohabiting siblings, and calls for a ‘rights for grandparents’ law. These developments offer a glimpse into just how fast-moving an area family law is; and it is in part this fast pace that makes family law such an exciting subject to study.


At the same time, family law is also a challenging area of law, and this is not least because it is in family law that we encounter some of the most complex and multifaceted problems facing families and individuals. During the course, we explore such questions as: how should the family justice system support those who have no legal advice and representation as a consequence of cuts to legal aid? What is the point of divorce law? How should finances and property be distributed on relationship breakdown? Should cohabiting siblings be able to have a civil partnership? Who should be the legal parents where four friends decide to conceive a child who will be cared for equally by all four of them? In what circumstances can a local authority legally intervene to remove a child from his or her family? How should the State respond to domestic abuse? What should be done if a woman conceals her pregnancy and wishes for the baby to be taken into State care without the knowledge of the baby’s genetic father? If you are interested in thinking through questions of this sort and in embarking on a broader inquiry into how and why law constructs a particular vision of ‘the family’ and indeed regulates family life at all, then this would be a good course for you!


The structure of the course is as follows:


Michaelmas Term:

1. Family life and family justice 

2. Legal constructions of ‘the family’, ‘family life’, and ‘families’

3. Gender and identity

4. The institutions of marriage and civil partnership and the rise of cohabitation

5. The law of marriage and civil partnership: sex, gender, and religion

6. Divorce and dissolution

7. Family finances on relationship breakdown

8. Domestic abuse: its nature and extent

9. Domestic abuse: legal measures and State obligations

10. Death in the family: inheritance, intestacy, and financial support


Lent Term:

1. Legal constructions of ‘children’ and ‘childhood’

2. Legal parenthood and parental responsibility

3. Child welfare

4. Post-separation parenting and private disputes over children

5. Grandparents

6. Child protection

7. Adoption

8. Siblings

9. Children’s rights

10. European and international family law


Summer Term:

1. Revision


This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totalling a minimum of 40 hours across Michaelmas Term and Lent Term. This year some or all of this teaching will be delivered through recorded online lectures and a mix of both in-person and online classes to accommodate students who are unable to physically be on campus.  This course includes a reading week in Weeks 6 of Michaelmas Term and Lent Term.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to write 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 and there will be an optional mock exam towards the end of the LT.

Indicative reading

Students will be provided with a detailed syllabus and reading list for each topic. The core reading for each class will be based on articles and cases.

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, you may find it helpful to consult: John Eekelaar, Family Law and Personal Life – Second Edition (2017, Oxford University Press) and/or 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 – Second Edition (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.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2019/20: 48

Average class size 2019/20: 16

Capped 2019/20: Yes (50)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills