Our impact

Three studies by the University of Exeter's Professor Liz Trinder have helped shape national policy.

Parenting

Parenting within intact and separated families can take many forms and has changed radically in recent times. Parents may be same or different sex, cohabiting or "living apart together". Changing expectations around traditional gendered caring and bread-winning roles are affecting the way we parent. The Network members are particularly interested in:

  • parenting in non-traditional families
  • post-separation parenting
  • shared parenting styles in intact, separated, and step families
  • lone parents and the receding welfare state
  • grandparenting

Publications by Network Members on Parenting include:

Special Issue on ‘Family Solidarity, Child and Family Law Quarterly, Volume 27, Issue 3, 2015: 219-328. 

  • M. F. Brinig, ‘Substantive parenting arrangements in the USA: unpacking the policy choices’, 249-259.
  • M. V.  Antokolskaia, ‘Parenting in step-parent families: legal status versus de facto roles’, 271-284.

Gillian Douglas

  • 2000-2002, with M Murch et al, The role of grandparents in divorced families (funded by the Nuffield Foundation)
  • 2003 with N Ferguson, ‘The role of grandparents in divorced families’ 17 International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family 41-67

Abstract: This article reports on the findings of an exploratory study of how grandparents, parents, and grandchildren view the role of grandparents in the divorced family, and what impact the divorce seems to have on that role. We analyse the findings in three ways. First, we consider the nature of the relationship between grandparents and parents, and grandparents and grandchildren, which we argue appears to be characterized by asymmetry. Second, we identify the two key norms that appear to underlie the way these relationships are operated – the norm of non‐interference and the norm of obligation. Third, we categorize the styles that different grandparents adopt, and suggest that they occupy places on three different continua – grandparent as parent, partisan supporter and adult–child focused. We argue that where any given set of grandparents is located along each of these is established before the parents' divorce, and that the divorce of itself does not fundamentally alter their approach to grandparenting. We conclude that the study suggests that grandparents' willingness to provide support to divorced parents and their children cannot be taken for granted, and that the claim that grandparents should be accorded specific legal rights by virtue of their status is not supported by the evidence obtained in this study.

Emma Hitchings

  • 2007 ‘More Adoptions, More Quickly’: A study of social workers’ responses to the Adoption and Children Act 2002’ with T Sagar 29 Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 199-215.

Abstract: This article draws on findings from a small pilot study seeking an early indication, from the social worker perspective, of the impact of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 on the adoption process. The article discusses several issues. These issues include government targets, recruitment drives, training, disruptions and post‐adoption support. We found that some social workers in the field of adoption harbour grave concerns regarding New Labour's ‘more adoptions more quickly’ approach. The findings suggest that it can be very difficult for social workers to communicate effectively to prospective adopters the type of child that is available for adoption. This difficulty may be exacerbated by the new, quicker approach to adoption approval. Furthermore, whilst social workers may welcome the provision of increased post‐adoption support, the article points to the importance that social workers attach to post‐qualifying training for tackling communication problems between social workers and prospective adopters. They also attach importance to the provision of improved training for prospective adopters, in order that such adopters are appropriately prepared to parent a looked after child.

  • 2007 ‘The Adoption and Children Act: A level playing field for same-sex couples?’ Emma Hitchings and Tracey Sagar) (2007) 19(1) Child and Family Law Quarterly 60-80

Abstract: This article considers the decision to allow same-sex couples to apply for adoption and reports on the views and experiences of social workers involved in the adoption process. This small qualitative study found that from the social worker perspective, the adoption process remains discriminatory and generally problematic for same-sex adopters, with certain issues demonstrating a misalignment between theory and practice].

Liz Trinder

In addition to the publications listed here, Dr Trinder's research on post-separation parenting informed judicial training by the Judicial Studies Board in 2011.

Abstract: Shared residence, where children divide their time between parents after separation or divorce is becoming more common. This paper reviews recent empirical research on the prevalence and durability of shared residence arrangements, the satisfaction of parents and children, and the impact of shared residence on child well being. The evidence reviewed suggests that shared residence can be a positive outcome where parents are able to co-operate and where arrangements are centred around children’s needs but that shared residence in higher conflict cases, typically following litigation, is associated with negative outcomes for children. The review concludes that the adoption of a shared residence presumption in England and Wales would, following recent Australian experience, lead to a rapid expansion of the ‘wrong type’ of shared residence, that is amongst the high conflict litigating cases least equipped to make it work for children.

  • 2008 with J Kellett & L Swift The relationship between contact and child adjustment in high conflict cases after divorce or separation, 13 Child and Adolescent Mental Health 181-187.

Abstract: Background: The study explored the relationship between contact and child adjustment where parents are in legal dispute over contact following divorce. Method: The sample consisted of 156, 129 and 108 parents at three different time points. Resident and contact parents reported on child and parent wellbeing, contact, decision-making and concerns about their former partner_s parenting. Results: Children, particularly boys, had above average behaviour problems. Parent wellbeing and concerns about their ex-partner_s parenting were associated with child adjustment. Contact and child adjustment were not related. Conclusions: Parenting education and therapeutic interventions are required to help parents focus on their children’s needs.

  • 2008 Maternal gatekeeping and gate-opening in post‑divorce families: strategies, contexts and consequences, 29 Journal of Family Issues, 1298-1324.

Abstract: This study explores the processes by which custodial mothers can support and inhibit fathers’ relationships following divorce and separation. It draws on qualitative interviews with resident mothers and nonresident fathers from 54 separated families, including 22 sets of former couples. The study found that mothers adopt a range of strategies, from proactive gate opening to gate closing, and that these strategies appear influential. Maternal perceptions of paternal competence and child welfare beliefs, parental relationship quality, and parental role bargains were strongly linked to different types of maternal gatekeeping. Informed by systems theory, the interviews of former couples suggest that gate work, whether gate opening or gate closing, can be a dynamic transactional process rather than a linear and unidirectional process running from mothers to fathers.

  • 2007 Dangerous dads and malicious mothers: the relevance of gender to contact disputes. In M. Maclean (Ed.) Parenting after Partnering. Oxford: Hart
  • 2006 with M Lamb Measuring up? The relationship between correlates of children's adjustment and both family law and policy in England. 65 Louisiana Law Review 1509-1538
  • 2004 with J Pryor The Impact of Divorce In J. Scott, J. Treas & M. Richards (Eds.), The Blackwell Companion to Sociology of the Family. Oxford: Blackwell
  • 2003 with A Bainham, B Lindley & M Richards (Eds) Children and their Families: Contact, Rights and Welfare. Oxford: Hart
  • 2003 Working and not working contact after divorce. In A. Bainham, B. Lindley, M. Richards & L. Trinder (Eds.) Children and their Families: Contact, Rights and Welfare. Oxford: Hart
  • 2003 Contact after divorce. What has the law to offer? In G. Miller (Ed.), Frontiers of Family Law. 3rd Edn, London: Wiley
  • 2002 with M Beek & J Connolly Making Contact. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation. 54pp. Summary and full report: http://www.jrf.org.uk/publications/childrens-and-parents-experience-contact-after-divorce 
  • 2001 with B Featherstone  New Labour, families and fathers. 21 Critical Social Policy, 536-8
  • Enforcement of contact orders
  • Finding fault

Shared parenting

The Network has taken a particular interest in ensuring that current policy debates on shared parenting are informed by rigorous research evidence on what works for children. The Network has undertaken a range of initiatives to bring the messages from the best international research to the attention of policy-makers and practitioners in England and Wales. These initiatives include:

  • In May 2011 we organised a series of events involving Dr Jenn McIntosh, one of the leading international researchers on shared care. The aim was to brief policy-makers and practitioners about the latest Australian research on shared care particularly from a developmental perspective. The events included:
    • a major seminar on Shared parenting: what works for children? (see 25th May seminar programme) at the Nuffield Foundation. The invited audience of policy-makers and practitioners heard three presentations on Dr McIntosh’s research: an overview of her four year longitudinal study (McIntosh research slides) of outcomes in higher conflict cases, a review of her research with Dr Bruce Smyth on outcomes of shared care for infants and young children and emergent findings from a qualitative study with children and young people in shared care arrangements. The discussants were Keith Towler (Children’s Commissioner for Wales) and Professor Liz Trinder (Exeter University).
    • a meeting with Tim Loughton MP (Minister for Children) and David Norgrove and members of the Family Justice Review Panel.

  • A review by Liz Trinder of recent major Australian studies on shared care, published in Child and Family Law Quarterly and in summary form in the journal Family Law [link].  The evidence reviewed suggests that shared residence can be a positive outcome where parents are able to co-operate and where arrangements are centred around children’s needs but that shared residence in higher conflict cases, typically following litigation, is associated with negative outcomes for children. The review concludes that the adoption of a shared residence presumption in England and Wales would, following recent Australian experience, lead to a rapid expansion of the ‘wrong type’ of shared residence, that is amongst the high conflict litigating cases least equipped to make it work for children.

  • We have submitted evidence to the Family Justice Review both as individual researchers and as a Network. We are pleased to note that our contributions have been acknowledged by the panel and have had a role in informing the recommendations of the Final Report on shared care. 

  • Following the government response to the Family Justice Review published on the 6th February 2012, Liz Trinder, writing in The Guardian on the 7th February 2012 has warned of the dangers of legislating on shared parenting which come through clearly from the research evidence.

This is a priority area for the Network and we will be doing further work in this field.

Other academic reviews of shared care research

This is a very contentious area where research of highly varying quality can be and are used and abused to support particular positions. However, this should not be confused with the small but growing body of high quality shared care research, almost all from Australia. In addition to the reviews by Trinder (noted above) there is an excellent review of this research by two Australian colleagues in association with Oxford University.

*This article was published by Family Law (a publishing imprint of Jordan Publishing Ltd) in issue 4 of 2010 of the journal Child and Family Law Quarterly, at [2010] CFLQ 475.