This had a number of key themes in addition to those encapsulated within the
1996 Act. For example, there was an interest in achieving greater
predictability in determining the outcome of ancillary relief (money and
property) applications, whether through legal endorsement of pre-nuptial
contracts or, secondly, through developing tighter rules governing the
division of financial assets. Both of these developments were, incidentally,
strongly resisted by the legal community. The authors of this monograph
support the lawyers on this one, although whether they are right to do so is a
moot point. (The following judicial statement, which they quote, does not
invite immediate acquiescence: ‘The function of the Family Division judge
is not so much to state principles as to reflect the relevant circumstances of
the particular case in the discretionary conclusion.’
Other key features of the legal environment include procedural change,
especially that encapsulated within the so-called Ancillary Relief pilot
project – a further attempt to reduce cost and delay by increasing court
oversight over the conduct of financial applications. (The authors are
sceptical of this likewise, although it seems generally to have found favour
with the profession.) There has also been the development of a new form of
contractual relationship between the public funder and family lawyers. Since
1998 legal aid has been progressively controlled through a system of block
grants from the LSC to law firms. Legal aid, in other words, is no longer a
demand-led service. As these authors point out, this has led to far fewer firms
offering family work under public funding (especially in London) and it has
also, as they put it, sharpened the ‘watershed’ between preliminary legal
advice on the one hand and assistance and representation on the other.
So much for the context: what contribution is made by this book? It has to
be said that this monograph takes its place within a tradition of academic
exploration of the reality of legal practice. This work includes Maclean and
Eekelaar’s own study of maintenance after divorce,
research conducted at
Cardiff which examines how parents cope financially on marriage
and – perhaps the most obvious precursors to this study –
Richard Ingleby’s study of solicitors’ divorce practice,
and my own work
with Stephen Cretney.
There has, in other words, been a rich vein of socio-
legal research in this area. This is all very helpfully summarized by the
present authors and, for the family law student, one can thoroughly
recommend the overview of research in the area which is contained within
the opening chapter. As the authors point out, it is striking how this
information has been largely ignored by the policy community in the lead-up
3 J. Eekelaar and M. Maclean, Maintenance and Divorce (1986) 92.
4 G. Douglas, M. Murch, A. Perry, K. Bader, and M. Borkowski, How parents cope
financially on marriage breakdown (1999).
5 R. Ingleby, Solicitors and Divorce (1992).
6 G. Davis, S. Cretney, and J. Collins, Simple Quarrels (1994).
ßBlackwell Publishers Ltd 2001