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The Street-Level Response to Relationship Breakdown: A Lesson for National Policy?

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In January 2001, the Government announced its intention to repeal the divorce reforms contained in the Family Law Act 1996. The 'story' of the Act is largely one of compromise: between a backward-looking idealism, casting divorce law in the role of supporting marriage, and a more forward-facing pragmatism, accepting the necessity of engaging with social reality. The result was legislation that sought both to save and end marriages - although a key reason for proposing the Act's repeal was an alleged failure to save marriages. This national approach to relationship breakdown contrasts sharply with that at 'street-level', where work aims to provide a service catering to the diversity of modern family life. The apparent success of this approach prompts the question of whether there are lessons for national policy. Drawing on a series of interviews with national policy-makers and street-level workers, this paper compares national and local perspectives and suggests that a new mind-set and approach, akin to that operating on the ground, is needed at national level if workable divorce law reform is to be achieved.
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Keywords: Divorce; Divorce Law; Family Policy; Law Reform; Policy-making

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 March 2004

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