Family law has changed dramatically in the past few years: Parliament has allowed same-sex couples to enter civil partnerships, and the House of Lords has introduced a yardstick of equal division of property for divorcing couples. These three books set out to help us make sense of these and many other developments, albeit with very different aims in mind.
In its tenth edition, Bromley's Family La indisputably remains the bible of family law. It elegantly achieves its aim to set out and explain family law, and has retained its character as a traditional text. An illustration of this approach is that the authors concentrate on providing a clear exposition of the law and carefully delineate their own views with a phrase once common in textbooks, "it is submitted".
However, traditional does not mean old-fashioned. Nigel Lowe and Gillian Douglas deal extremely well with recent transformations in family law. They continually emphasise the ways in which old assumptions no longer hold true. They often reinforce this by dealing with the current position first and only then turning to the history to explain the current law.
While Bromley's Family La could loosely be described as a blackletter textbook, there is plenty of historical and sociological material. It is true, however, that this material is introduced to explain the law rather than in its own right. As would therefore be expected, Bromley's text is particularly strong on pre-legislative material such as Law Commission reports.
In the second edition of Family Law, Gender and the State, Alison Diduck and Felicity Kaganas are continuing a project that is in a sense the opposite of Lowe and Douglas's. For Lowe and Douglas, the law is centre stage, but for Diduck and Kaganas, society is centre stage; Lowe and Douglas refer to social developments to shed light on the law, while Diduck and Kaganas examine legal developments to shed light on society, principally by investigating the ways in which family law constructs and regulates family life and responsibilities. Theirs is an important and ambitious book that aims ultimately at a feminist restatement of family law.
Given the ambition of the project, it is unsurprising that Family Law, Gender and the State is a little uneven. There are sections that are brilliant in their reworking of legal material, but there are other sections that merely describe legal developments, accompanied by little criticism or analysis. As is to be expected given that Diduck and Kaganas draw primarily on a feminist framework, the authors give the most creative answers to those questions that feminism has most imaginatively tackled to date. At times, perhaps wisely, they steer their discussion back to those particular questions.
Diduck and Kaganas split their book, so that one part discusses the principles behind the law while a separate part examines these principles in practice using a case method. I can see clear advantages, but I would suggest that this approach has three important disadvantages. First, it leads to repetition; second, it hinders the authors from subjecting the detail of the law to feminist critique; third, it impedes the reader from navigating the book.
Both Bromley's Family Law and Family Law, Gender and the State are exceptionally scholarly in their chosen arenas. The former will be useful for any family law academic who needs to get to grips with an area of the law, who is grappling with the implications of a legal development or who needs to find the answer to an obscure legal question. The latter is written and referenced in such depth that it is a useful resource for legal as well as social science researchers at all levels, whether looking for theoretical inspiration or drawing up a literature review.
The range of diverse sources that Diduck and Kaganas draw on is impressive: they seem to have included every bit of material that helps feminists make sense of family law. There is a well-pitched selection of further reading of such material at the end of each chapter. What's more, they undersell themselves by describing their book as "Text, Cases and Materials", because they have woven by far the largest proportion of the cases and materials into the text.
In contrast, Family Law by Mary Welstead and Susan Edwards is a very poor book. Although there are positive comments that could be made about it - it is particularly strong on questions of race and culture - the overriding purpose of a core text is to provide a clear and accurate summary of the law for undergraduates. Unfortunately, this book is neither clear nor accurate.
There are far better revision aids on the market, but both Bromley's Family Law and Family Law, Gender and the State are clear and accessible enough to be read by any reasonably able undergraduate. Ideally, law students would read both. While they could gain a solid understanding of the law from reading Family Law, Gender and the State, they would best accomplish this goal using Bromley's Family Law. Family Law, Gender and the State, which works best as a companion to Family Law, would provide students with a complementary critique.
Although some students might be put off by the size of Bromley's, the main reason for its length is its comprehensive coverage. Academics will be able to direct students to sufficiently succinct accounts of the particular aspects of family law covered in their course. Although other students might be put off by the avowedly feminist perspective adopted by Family Law, Gender and the State, they will, if they persist, find it an extremely stimulating text that will undoubtedly challenge their ideas about both law and society.
Bromley's Family Law. Tenth Edition
Author - Nigel Lowe and Gillian Douglas
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Pages - 1248
Price - £31.99
ISBN - 9780406959515