English Family Law since World War II: From Status to Chaos

John Dewar and Stephen Parker

in Cross Currents

Published in print December 2000 | ISBN: 9780198268208
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191683442 | DOI:
English Family Law since World War II: From Status to Chaos

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This chapter explores developments in legal ideology and policy in family law in England and Wales since World War II. It does so by identifying three ideological and policy ‘eras’, or schemas, in family law: the ‘formal’, the ‘functionalist’, and the ‘complex’ (or, less politely, the ‘chaotic’). Each era can be understood as characterised by a different set of balances struck between four dichotomies: rights-utility, form-substance, principle-pragmatism, and public-private. The formal era refers to the period from 1857 (the introduction of civil divorce) to the introduction of the divorce reforms in the late 1960s. Some forms of cohabitation were seen as functional equivalents to marriage and a process began of according to them similar legal consequences. The functional model gave centre stage to marriage as a means of linking law to families. In defining obligations of family members towards each other, the law now pays less attention to marriage and more to parenthood. The chaotic complex was marked by strong tensions between rights and utility, rules and discretions, and autonomy and coercion.

Keywords: England; Wales; family law; divorce; marriage; cohabitation; parenthood; rights; utility; autonomy

Chapter.  8116 words. 

Subjects: Family Law

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