LLB Programmes


Professor Michael Freeman

Family law is concerned with the laws governing family relationships, with the problems that families encounter and the legal solutions to these problems. In the course, we study the problems, the legal solutions and evaluate and explain the responses. We are as concerned with what actually happens in practice as with the law as stated in the books.

Family law is examined in its social and cultural context. We consider not just what the law is but why it is what it is, what significance if any attaches to this and what happens in practice. Clearly, to get to grips with a subject in this way involves a range of reading beyond cases and textbooks and students should expect to read widely and think about policies and practices and values.

Syllabus (not all subjects are covered every year)

  • The Family and Law: the role of law in family relationships; a historical perspective.
  • Marriage and Cohabitation. The regulation of marriage. Nullity. Marriage as a status. Cohabitation and its effects; cohabitation contracts. Prioritisation of marriage and its effect on other relationships.
  • The Legal Relations of Husband and Wife. The sex relationship. Property (ownership and occupation of the matrimonial home). Money matters (bank accounts, housekeeping). The mortgage. Violence in marriage (and cohabitation) and the legal responses (criminal and civil). Marital rape. Maintenance obligations and state benefits (income support, the social fund, family credit): the relationship between these. Actions for neglect to maintain (enforcement questions).
  • Dissolution of Marriage by Divorce. Objectives, trends, causes. Reconciliation and conciliation. Other ways of ending marriage and legal consequences (death, abandonment, separation). Economic Consequences of Divorce. Property adjustment and financial provision. The clean break philosophy. Who gets the matrimonial home. The effect of cohabitation and remarriage. Conduct. Periodical payments, lump sums. Enforcement: variation. Financial provision for children. Types of property order. Tax considerations. Social security implications. The wealthy and the poor.
  • Legal Relations of Parent and Child. Reproductive control and the state’s power to affect private decision-making (sterilisation, abortion, contraception, the ‘reproduction revolution’). The meaning of ‘mother’ and ‘father’. Parental responsibility and its significance. Legitimacy and illegitimacy: the unmarried father. Disputes between partners. The orders courts can make (residence, contact, specific issues, prohibited steps). Problems over name, education, religion, punishment, emigration. Re-marriage and the step-parent. Disputes between parents and foster parents. Divorce: its effects on children. Maintenance obligations to children. (vi) The State, Parents and Children. Parental autonomy v State interference. Child abuse (physical, sexual, emotional) and legal responses to it (criminal, civil, administrative). Care conferences and registers. The duties of local authorities. Prevention and assistance to families. Provision of accommodation. Duties of local authorities towards accommodated children. Emergency protection orders; child assessment orders; police protection. Care proceedings. Contact orders. Education supervision orders. Dealing with abuse and neglect (identification, proof, remedies). Wardship and new restrictions. Guardianship. Adoption (babies, children in care, by relatives and step-parents): alternatives to adoption. Race questions; inter-country adoption. The reproduction revolution (IVF, GIFT, surrogacy).
  • Administration of Family Law. Jurisdiction and powers of courts; the role of the legal profession and other professions (medical and psychiatric evidence, reports). The ‘Family Court’. Separate representation of children: the guardian ad litem. Conciliation (in and out of court).


  • Cretney and Masson, Principles of Family Law (6th ed), 1997. This is the best and most up to date.
  • Bromley, Family Law (8th ed) is an alternative: thorough but dull.
  • Hoggett and Pearl, The Family, Law and Society (4th ed) is an excellent collection of materials.
  • Hayes and Williams, Family Law (1999) (a good straightforward account).
  • Diduck and Kaganas, Family Law, Gender and the State (1999).

There are a number of books of statutes: the Blackstone collection is the one recommended.There are articles in many journals, in particular Family Law, Family Law Quarterly, International Journal of Law Policy and the Family, the Journal of Family and the Social Welfare Law, Adoption and Fostering, Child Abuse and Neglect. All these journals are taken in the UCL library.There is a vast range of other books that may be consulted. The UCL Family Law library has extensive holdings of family law.

Amongst books you may wish to consult are:

  • Eekelaar, Family Law and Social Policy (p/b) (2nd ed).
  • Barton and Douglas, Law and Parenthood (1995) (p/b).
  • Freeman, The State, Law and Family: Critical Perspectives (p/b).
  • Goldstein, Freud and Solnit, Beyond the Best Interests of the Child (p/b).
  • Goldstein, Freud and Solnit, Before the Best Interests of the Child (p/b).
  • Freeman, The Rights and Wrongs of Children (p/b).
  • Wallerstein and Kelly, Surviving the Breakup (p/b).
  • Freeman, Violence in the Home.
  • Freeman and Lyon, Cohabitation Without Marriage.
  • Freeman, Divorce: Where Next? (1996).
  • Pizzey, Scream Quietly or the Neighbours Will Hear (p/b).
  • Lyon and de Cruz, Child Abuse (p/b).
  • Dingwall, Eekelaar and Murray, The Protection of Children.
  • Singer and Wells, The Reproduction Revolution (p/b).
  • Smart, The Ties That Bind (p/b).
  • La Fontaine, Child Sexual Abuse (p/b).

There are also important reports such as the Butler-Sloss report on child sexual abuse in Cleveland, the Law Commission and Lord Chancellor’s reports on Divorce, and Children Come First on the maintenance obligations of the absent parent.


Family law is valuable to all, even though in the City you are unlikely to use it. It is interesting, should engage you with current controversy and give you an insight into state policy, the position of women and children and the state of the contemporary family.

Assessment of the course is by a 3_ hour written examination in the summer.

National Admissions Test for Law (LNAT)
All applicants are required to take the LNAT as soon as possible and no later than 20 January (registration deadline 15 January).

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