The Family, Law and Society: Cases and Materials

February 26, 2009

Authors: Brenda Hale, David Pearl, Elizabeth Cooke and Daniel Monk

Edition: Sixth

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Pages: 800

Price: £29.99

ISBN 9780199204243

Family law students probably do not realise how lucky they are to have this book. When you buy a textbook written by a Law Lord, a circuit judge, the law commissioner and one of the most exciting family law academics, you cannot really go wrong. But this book is excellent in unexpected ways. One might predict, given its authorship, its explanation of the key statutes and cases to be authoritative. It is. But the book does so much more than tell you about the law. One moment you are reading a statutory provision and the next you are looking at the statistics of births outside marriage. On one page you are considering a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights and on the next is a cartoon. One extract is a sophisticated interpretation of a statute and the next a brilliant feminist critique.

The strength of this book is that it does not see family law as operating in isolation from the wider society. What families do and how people understand their responsibilities are as much themes in this book as what the law is and what it does. Hence, the readers are drawn constantly back to the latest data on how families work in the "real world" and are reminded that the cases heard by the courts are not necessarily representative of family life across the country. A strength of this book is its recognition of the diversity of family life and structures. For example, as is made clear, marriage carries a host of meanings depending on a person's culture, religion and socio-economic circumstances.

In the preface, Baroness Hale writes: "This book has always been good fun to write and we hope that it is also good fun to read." Well, it certainly is. No student will be able to finish the book without being enthused to read more and think further about a host of issues. It contains sets of questions to set grey cells to work throughout the book and provides lists of further reading to take one's studies forward.

There can be few quibbles with a book of this quality. One is the relatively little attention paid to older people. Although, quite properly, children play a central role in family life, older people often play an important part too, most often as providers of care and support, but sometimes themselves needing the help of their family.

Overall this is an excellent read and a fascinating insight not only into family law but also into the way we live our family lives in our complex society.

Who is it for? Students of family law or family studies.

Presentation: It is written in an exciting and engaging manner.

Would you recommend it? Yes.

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