Following on from the Preface, this chapter establishes the book's intention to critique the exercise of power of family practices against the values of an open society. As a background to understanding modern forms of family governance, it outlines the ‘welfarism’ thesis which maintains that family governance has moved from an era of instrumentalism, in which the legal form of family relationships was designed to promote the interests of the dominant member, through a welfarist phase, to an era where rights claims have attempted to re-align the sources of power over people's personal lives. This is illustrated by reference to divorce law and the legal treatment of homosexuality. Rights claims however rest on a fragile institutional basis. Nevertheless, the fragmentation of family forms they have precipitated suggests it may be better to see family law as the law relating to the personal lives of individuals, and therefore be more appropriately termed ‘personal’ law.
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