Keywords: Families – empirical socio-legal research – social and legal change
In this article I attempt to turn back the clock in order to bring the recent history of private family law in England and Wales alive. By returning to a number of empirical, socio-legal research projects carried out over the last quarter century or so, I construct a history of social change by revisiting the voices of solicitors, mothers, fathers, spouses, grandparents, and children who spoke to us from the 1980s to the 2010s. Taking the 1980s as the starting point I track the huge changes that have occurred both in family life and in family law. Focusing particularly on three social movements – the Women’s Movement, the Fathers’ Rights Movement, and the social recognition of the rights of the child – this article outlines how, taken together, these cultural forces have transformed family law. The history that is presented here is not comprehensive, nor is it suggestive of a simple story of progress and improvement. Rather family law is understood as changing to accommodate transformations in family life (including same-sex marriage/civil partnership and families formed through gamete donation) and the flexibility of family law is acknowledged alongside its limitations in resolving family disputes.