Brenda ALMOND (University of Hull), Social Policy, Law and the Contemporary Family, English/32 pages, December 2006.


Law-makers do not only respond to social change but, because individuals can be expected to respond rationally to changed conditions, they may in fact influence or at least accelerate it. In the case of the family, the loss of the ¡¥family wage¡¦ has made marriage more costly than living apart, while liberalised divorce laws, particularly no-fault divorce, provide an easy exit from marriage and facilitate opportunism on the part of both men and women. Economists point out that marriage functions as a socially useful institution signaling commitment in a relationship. However, with the breakdown of the marriage relationship, a new burden is placed on the parent-child relationship, leading to socially damaging and expensive long term disputes about child custody and access.

Individual freedom is, of course, important in a free society, but this does not mean that government cannot judge the value to society of different choices, or that it should not seek to influence socially useful choices by fiscal and other open means.

Some new legal possibilities such as civil partnerships are fraught with ambiguity. Where children are involved, biologically unrelated people may be given parental status and rights, and the nature of birth-certificates changed to provide non-biological information. The special relationship of a child to its two natural parents is challenged by these changes ¡V a serious consequence which has long term implications for the children involved.