Family Law

This information is for the 2022/23 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 hugely 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 fascinating time to be studying family law in this respect: in the past year alone there has been significant reform of divorce law and the law in relation to domestic abuse, key judgments have been handed down in areas ranging from child protection to financial provision, and the Law Commission has consulted on proposals to reform weddings law. And that is before we come to other significant developments, such as those in relation to assisted reproduction techniques, calls for greater recognition of siblings in law, 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 a challenging area of law, and this is not least because it is in family law that we often encounter some of the most complex and multifaceted problems facing families and individuals. During the course, we explore such questions as: how has the COVID-19 pandemic affected family life and the family justice system? What is a ‘family’ in law? 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 wants 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. Family law in practice

Summer Term:

1. Revision


In the Michaelmas and Lent Terms there will be a 1-hour class and 2-hour lecture every week (excluding reading week) and in Week 1 of the Summer Term there will be two revision sessions (a 1-hour class and a 2-hour lecture). Alongside the formal classes and lectures there will be an optional reading group (meeting every fortnight in termtime to discuss a piece of writing relating to family law) and an optional film group (meeting every month in termtime to view and discuss a film relating to family law).

Formative coursework

You will be expected to write at least 1 essay in the Michaelmas Term and 1 essay in the Lent Term. Additional optional essays will be set at the end of each term and there will be an optional mock exam towards the end of the Lent Term.

Indicative reading

A detailed syllabus and course guide will be provided at the start of the course and a reading list and handout with questions to think about will be provided for each topic. The essential 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, I would suggest reading Family Law and Personal Life (2nd edition) by John Eekelaar (2017, Oxford University Press) and In Your Defence: Stories of Life and Law by Sarah Langford (2018, Doubleday).


Open-book exam (100%, duration: 3.5 hours) in the summer exam period.

Key facts

Department: Law School

Total students 2021/22: Unavailable

Average class size 2021/22: Unavailable

Capped 2021/22: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills