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The research catalogue is an archive of ESRC-funded grants and outputs. Links, files and other content will no longer be maintained or updated after April 2014.

Opening closed doors: a micro analytic investigation of dispute resolution in child contact cases

The family courts face intense criticism about decisions made about child contact (or access) following parental separation or divorce. Both father's rights groups and Women's Aid have raised concerns about institutional bias, ineffectiveness and a lack of transparency. However, the inherently closed nature of decision-making in the family courts has prevented greater understanding of how decisions are reached.

This study addresses this gap by undertaking a detailed analysis of in-court conciliation meetings where parents negotiate over contact with the assistance of a judge or court social worker.

The research uses conversation analysis to explore precisely how the actual, real-time work of family courts is undertaken in and through the communicative processes of spoken interaction.

The study will explore, for example, the interactional processes by which agreements are achieved, negotiated and/or impeded, and how the rights and needs of children and parents are discursively framed by conciliators and disputants.

The study has three aims:

  • to advance theoretical and empirical understanding of decision making within the family courts,
  • to enhance transparency, inform policy and identify specific areas of professional practices and competences that may be improved, and
  • to demonstrate the benefits of the conversation analysis method for socio-legal research.
  • Outputs (10)