UCL Faculty of Laws


Hybrid | Family Law for Family Life

19 October 2023, 6:00 pm–7:00 pm

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This lecture will be delivered by Dr Leanne Smith, as part of the Current Legal Problems Lecture Series 2023-24

Event Information

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UCL Laws


UCL Faculty of Laws (Moot Court)
4-8 Endsleigh Gardens

Current Legal Problems lecture on 'Family Law for Family Life: Rethinking the Boundaries and Modalities of Family Law'

Speaker: Dr Leanne Smith (University of Exeter)

Chair: Professor Rob George (UCL Laws)

About the lecture

It is widely accepted that a key function of family law is to set norms that regulate how parties deal with each other at the point of family breakdown or conflict. In this sense, family law has been characterised as under threat from the robust and longstanding policy drive to divert family disputes away from family courts and family lawyers, which has seen its norms retreat for a majority of those to whom it is potentially relevant. This lecture calls such thinking into question and argues for a rethinking of the boundaries of family law, moving us away from reactive formalism and towards more constructive and anticipatory approaches. 

Many of the norms of family law would be more helpful if understood at the point of forming relationships, and during their existence, rather than solely at the point of conflict. Moreover, family law norms could, and arguably should, infuse some relationships (most notably co-parenting) long after the resolution of a conflict. So, the relevance of family law norms can stretch back to long before a conflict arises, and also project forwards into the future beyond a conflict. As such, it is possible to recapture the relevance of family law by seeing it as a tool not just for time-limited interventions in family disputes, but for normatively better relationships over extended periods of time; family law, in other words, can be for family life, not just for family conflict.

Of course, deploying family law for family life demands a rethink of the means by which its norms are disseminated, since traditional legal advice is targeted at dispute resolution. A second strand of this paper examines how legal capabilities theory might be used to shift our understanding of how and when family law norms are communicated, with ramifications for the contours and content of professional practice and advice services. This in turn brings us full circle, to a point where traditional efforts to ensure that norms of family justice effectively inform family dispute resolution can themselves be made more effective. Family law, it is suggested, can be made more relevant both to family life, and to the ways in which advice and expertise are accessed in contemporary society.  

Watch the video directly on our YouTube Channel or view it below

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About the speaker

Leanne Smith is a family law researcher with particular interests in parenting disputes, access to family justice and effective family dispute resolution. She has participated in and led empirical studies on litigants in person in the family courts, Shared Parenting Information Programmes (‘SPIPs’) and the use of lay advisors (‘McKenzie Friends’) as substitutes for professional legal advice and representation in family cases.  

Leanne’s current work focuses on building an evidence-base for the use of different resources (e.g. public legal education and self-help resources; post-separation parenting apps) to improve understanding of family justice and support family dispute resolution. She is exploring how people use peer support in online communities to help them navigate family disputes, as well as the mechanisms through which information and advice about solving family disputes can be made useful and accessible. 

The later strands of Leanne’s work are in part influenced by her strong interest in designing effective learning activities. In her teaching this manifests in diverse learning activities and authentic assessment briefs. Her students are exposed to diverse ways of acquiring and communicating knowledge and encouraged to consider how law is understood and experienced by different audiences. Leanne has been shortlisted for the prestigious Oxford University Press Law Teacher of the Year award and also won Cardiff University’s ‘Most Effective Teacher’ award in 2014. 

Leanne is a founding member of the interdisciplinary Network on Family, Regulation and Society, which has brought together top international and UK researchers to debate research questions critical to the future of family law and policy. She is a member of the advisory board of the Journal of Law and Society and has served on the editorial board of that journal and of the Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law. Before leaving Wales to take up her post at Exeter Law School in 2019, Leanne also served for many years as a trustee for Family Mediation Cymru.

About Current Legal Problems

The Current Legal Problems (CLP) lecture series and annual volume was established over fifty five years ago at the Faculty of Laws, University College London and is recognised as a major reference point for legal scholarship.

Book your place

You can attend this event in-person at UCL Faculty of Laws (Bentham House, 4-8 Endsleigh Gardens, London WC1H 0EG) or alternatively you can join via a live stream.

Please make sure you choose the correct ticket when booking your place.

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Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

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