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Study information

Family Law

Module titleFamily Law
Module codeLAW3020
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Leanne Smith (Lecturer)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks



Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Family law is an exciting and topical module which explores how the law and family justice system operate to regulate both adult relationships and relationships between parents and children. Within the module, you will consider who the law regards as a parent and how post-separation parenting disputes are resolved, as well as how the state intervenes in family life to attempt to protect children in dangerous families. You will consider the legal consequences of marriage, civil partnership and cohabiting relationships, exploring such topical issues as the use of pre-nuptial agreements; the adequacy of remedies for domestic violence and the protection afforded to cohabiting relationships.


You will explore recent radical changes in the Family Justice system, including withdrawal of legal aid from private family law court disputes, shifts towards alternative methods of dispute resolution, such as mediation and collaborative law, and efforts to promote shared parenting after separation.


By analysing the legal and policy framework for family law in the context of the changing ways that people partner and parent, you will engage in an assessment of the effectiveness of the current family justice system and of the legal definition of family in the 21st century, as well as debating proposals for reform of the law. You will also explore relevant socio- legal research in this area and consider its importance to the development of family law in the 21st century. Members of the team that will teach you are actively engaged in research which has been used by family law policy makers and links to family law practice. Additionally, members of the teaching team either practise as and/or engage regularly with family practitioners and will share their insights from doing so. In most years you will have the opportunity to participate in events with visiting speakers, such as senior judges.


Legal Foundations LAW1036 is a Pre-Requisite for this module. Subject to this, students from other Units may take the module.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The main aim of this module is to introduce you to the law, principles and policies related to adult partnerships and parent/child relationships. In connection with this, the module will develop your understanding of how family law has evolved to respond to both traditional and non-traditional family models, and of which types of family relationship have receive stronger and weaker levels of protection.


The module aims to look beyond the substance of the law to consider how it operates in practice, which includes consideration of the impact of a strong policy emphasis on out-of-court and lawyer-free resolution of family disputes. You will also be exposed to the influence of policy priorities and socio-legal research in this field, and you will become practised at using different types of evidence to critique the current effectiveness of family law and the family justice system.  Engagement with debates about proposals for reform of elements of family law will be a frequent part of your learning experience.


A distinctive feature of this module is that it aims to provide a strongly research-enriched learning experience. You will examine a range of socio-legal research studies, many of them conducted by members of the module teaching team, and develop insights into the relationships between law, policy and research in this area.


An additional aim of the module is to help you appreciate the needs of the users of family law and family justice and to develop your ability to communicate in different ways for different audiences. As well as developing your academic oral and writing skills, you will be given opportunities to design resources suitable for the general public and to practise negotiating skills. While studying this module you can expect to participate in a diverse range of learning and assessment activities which are designed to encourage the rigorous application of sources to constructing solutions to contemporary problems in family law and policy, and to help you develop your problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. describe, with accuracy and precision, the key legal rules, principles and processes governing: a) the formation, termination and consequences of a range of adult relationships; b) the establishment of parent/child relationships; and c) the resolution of family disputes;
  • 2. demonstrate awareness and thorough understanding of recent family law and policy developments, and current debates and reform proposals with reference to relevant policy, research and academic commentary.
  • 3. describe and evaluate in an informed manner the ways in which family law and the family justice system encourage private settlement of family disputes, and some of the impacts this has in practice.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. explain the content and function of relevant legal concepts, values, principles, institutions and procedures in depth, demonstrating understanding of the relationships between them where appropriate;
  • 5. use appropriate strategies and tools to conduct independent research on an aspect of the law and use the materials found to construct a reasoned response to a proposition concerning the law’s approach to an issue or problem;
  • 6. identify and apply, with accuracy and precision, relevant legal rules and principles to a doctrinal legal problem, demonstrating awareness of doctrinal complexity and/or uncertainty.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. present, either orally or in writing, a clear, confident and informed response to a question based on a taught or independently researched legal topic;
  • 8. devise a strategy for solving a short complex problem or practical task and effectively and concisely communicate the results, either alone or as part of a team.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover all or some of the following topics:


Family dispute resolution and the changing family justice system

Legal parenthood and parental responsibility

Private law parenting disputes

Child protection

Marriage and Civil Partnership

Cohabitation Law

Divorce/ CP Dissolution and nullity

Finance and property settlements on divorce

Domestic Abuse

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities4020 x 2 hour lectures
Scheduled learning and teaching activities1510 x 1.5 hour workshops
Guided independent study140Individual reading and lecture/workshop preparation activities
Guided independent study75Summative assessment
Guided independent study30Formative assessment

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
1 x draft portfolio piece1,000 words1-8Written feedback
2 x short pieces of writing500 words each (1,000 words in total)1-8General verbal feedback and written peer feedback
1 x individual presentation3 minutes1-8Oral feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Written portfolio 804 x 1,000 word pieces 1-8Written feedback
Individual presentation208 minutes1=8General written whole cohort feedback online

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Written portfolioWritten portfolio (4 x 1,000 word pieces)1-8August/September re-assessment period
Individual presentation Recorded individual presentation (8 minutes)1-8August/September re-assessment period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Key Texts:

J. Herring, Family Law (Longman, London: 2013)


J. Miles, R. George, S. Harris-Short, Family Law: Text, Cases and Materials (OUP, Oxford, 2019)


M. Oldham, Blackstone’s Statutes on Family Law2020-21 (OUP, Oxford, 2020)


A Brown, What is the Family of Law? The Influence of the Nuclear Family (Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2019)


A Barlow et al, Mapping Paths to Family Justice: Resolving Family Disputes in Neo-liberal times (Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2017)

Key words search

Family Law, Marriage, Civil Partnership, Children, Divorce, Cohabitation, Domestic Violence, Parenting, Mediation, Family Justice, Child Protection

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date