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Family Law

Sustaining The Postdivorce Family

A prominent feature of the complex era of family law is the increased emphasis on maintaining relationships between parents and children after separation. What form does this emphasis take? One obvious form is the creation of child support liabilities by statute (discussed above). Another is the increased legislative emphasis on postseparation contact between a child and the parent with which it is not living, and on the sharing of parenting responsibilities. This finds expression in different ways—joint-custody laws, legal presumptions of access, visitation or contact, and more funding for community agencies involved in supervising or supporting contact arrangements.

Postseparation childcare arrangements, and in particular visitation or contact, has become a key issue for feminist engagement with family law. Apparent attempts to shift the balance away from mothers towards fathers has attracted opposition and heightened attention. Research in Australia has suggested that the new regime has led to contact being ordered in inappropriate circumstances, and to women being harassed by men through abuse of court processes, thereby confirming the worst fears of its detractors (Rhoades, Graycar, and Harrison 2000). Legislation of this sort is said to grant power without responsibility, and to place women at the mercy of former partners.

The significance of this lies in the fact that divorce no longer represents the effective termination of parent-child relationships. As Carol Smart and Bren Neale (1999) have put it, "fragments of families are to be found in various households linked by biological and economic bonds, but not necessarily by affection or shared life prospects. We might say that family law is trying to hold the fragments together through the imposition of a new normative order based on genetics and finances, but not on a state-legitimated heterosexual union with its roots in the ideal of Christian marriage."

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily Theory & Types of FamiliesFamily Law - The Eras Of Family Law: From Form To Function, The Era Of Complexity, Relationship Definition: Entries And Exits