The construction of policy in the context of divorce and relationship breakdown
In January of 2001 the Government announced its intention to repeal Part 11 of the Family Law Act 1996. Originally scheduled for implementation in 2000, the Act had provided for fundamental changes to English divorce law, including removing matrimonial 'fault' from the divorce process, and encouraging mediation as the preferred method of dispute resolution. The Family Law Act began life as a set of recommendations intended primarily to bring marriages to an end with minimum hostility and distress. Yet what emerged from the policy 'process' was a piece of legislation that explicitly declared its support for marriage, and which imposed a framework of mechanisms designed to encourage couples to stay together. The first 'phase' of this thesis examines how the Act, with its dual aims of supporting and ending marriage, was reached. Initially the history of divorce law is traced. Through a series of interviews conducted with individuals involved in the Family Law Act 'process', the achievement of this 'middle-way' is then explored in detail. The second 'phase', drawing on a series of interviews conducted with individuals working with families on the ground, subsequently goes on to examine the 'street-level' response to marriage and relationship breakdown. Whilst national policy is something of a compromise between idealism and pragmatism, for those at street-level their work is unambiguously pragmatic - policy is constructed primarily in terms of a non-judgemental 'service' catering to the diversity of the modern family experience. The apparent success of this approach, particularly when compared to the 'failure' of the Family Law Act, prompts the question of whether there are lessons to be learnt for national policy. Indeed the study suggests that a new mind-set and approach akin to that operating on the ground is also needed at national level, if workable divorce law reform is to be achieved.