As patterns of family life continue to change across the globe, governments are pursuing a range of strategies in response. We probably have a reasonably clear picture of what is happening to families, but we are less sure of why the changes have come about, what directions they are likely to take in the future, and 'what works' best as a policy response. This article reports on the first of a series of workshops, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, to bring together socio-legal researchers, to discuss the issues raised in understanding the challenges created, focusing on the theme of 'voices heard and unheard'. Reports from the UK, the USA, Australia and continental Europe confirmed a continuing gap between the rhetoric of paying attention to children's voices and the reality of failing to 'hear' them or heed their messages. They also considered other 'voices', including those making use of other (alternative) dispute resolution mechanisms, and those having to represent themselves in legal proceedings. Drawing on these international perspectives and considering their similarities and differences will, it is hoped, help consolidate our knowledge and create a more robust evidence base for policy- and decision-makers to use when asking 'what works' and why.
The full version of this article appears in the May 2013 issue of Family Law.