I graduated from Sussex University with a BA (Hons) in Law with French and European Studies. I also studied at the University of Strasbourg, France and the College of Law, London, before qualifying and practising as a solicitor in London for 10 years, specialising in Family and Housing Law.
I began my academic career as a Law lecturer at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth where my research adopted a clear socio-legal focus to issues of family law and policy. In 2000, I conducted the first socio-legal research (funded by the Nuffield Foundation) to investigate the common law marriage myth, leading to a government-funded public information campaign to advise cohabiting couples about their legal situation. I joined the Law School at Exeter in 2004 and was appointed Professor of Family Law and Policy a year later. I have a particular interest in the regulation of adult relationships such as cohabitation and marriage and have led a number of further funded empirical research projects to inform law reform in this area, working with practitioner groups, the Law Commission and the Ministry of Justice. Much of my research has also been comparative, looking at both Europe and the common law world.
More recently, my research has focused on out of court family dispute resolution in the ESRC-funded study Mapping Paths to Family Justice and I am looking at the implications of the recent withdrawal of legal aid from almost all private family law matters for separating couples and for the family justice system as a whole, in the follow-up study Creating Paths to Family Justice.
I am also a member of the Working Group of the EU-funded project Empowering European Families based at the European Law Institute in Vienna, looking at ways to resolve the complex legal position of ‘international couples’ within the EU when relationships break down or one partner dies, to which Brexit adds a further complex dimension.
I have been privileged to lead a number of exciting research projects which have all been career highlights of different kinds. To prove to government using empirical methods that most people falsely believed that cohabitation gave the same legal rights as marriage, prompt a public information campaign and then evaluate the effect was an especially important achievement for me (Barlow et al, 2008).
To lead the comparative and interdisciplinary work of the Leverhulme International Network on New Families; New Governance with UK GW4 university colleagues and partners from Australia, USA and The Netherlands from 2011 – 2015 was particularly fascinating.
I was also pleased to be selected to serve as a member of the ESRC’s Grants Assessment Panel from 2010 – 2014 and as a member of the national Family Justice Council from 2011-2015. This led to my appointment to the government’s Family Mediation Task Force in 2014 which gave fascinating insight into the worlds of policy and justice in the family law sphere.
Probably the greatest highlight to date has been the recognition of my contribution to social science when I was appointed a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2013.
My role will involve looking at transitions across the life course, including into and out of relationships. For me, actively promoting paths to better mental health and wellbeing is key.
I have been inside No. 10 Downing Street.