Contemporary debates on law reform

With reference to particular examples of published research, critically evaluate the use made of empirical methods, in contemporary debates on law reform in the area of, contact between children and non-resident parents. I searched for published research on my subject matter using a variety of advanced research methods to search the web. I used a range of different databases to find the literature contained in my bibliography. All the material which I obtained involved empirical methods.

Whilst the majority of my items did not consist solely of original research, they all drew together an extensive range of research conducted by others. 1 The articles I obtained via these databases where particularly useful as they provided a wide link of information within the same document, bringing together cases, commentary, along with statistical data from various surveys/focus groups. The references contained within the bibliographies of these articles also made me aware of various governmental sources.

2 Despite not obtaining any of my items from Lawtel, I found this database significant to my research. Indeed, despite providing minimal amounts of full text material, I could quickly ascertain whether a particular piece of material was going to be useful (by reading the summaries), and I could then find the full text via either Lexis Nexis or Westlaw. However, I could not rely on these databases indefinitely, as they did not allow me to access a number of texts in full. Therefore, I also used web searching.

I used web portals as opposed to search engines, so as to eliminate bias/lack of expertise in my research. 3 As the subject which I choose contained several concepts, I found using the web of Science was very useful. The advanced searching tools, allowed me to combine each element of the subject separately, and thus gave me access to a broader range of published material. 4 I decided to focus in depth on one of publication drawn from the materials in my bibliography. This investigation uses both quantitative and qualitative research methods, providing two separate sets of data.

This use of mixed methods should provide access to both the practical/structural reasons which determine the type of contact a non-resident parent has with their child ('hard' data), whilst also exploring how the type of contact itself (between non-resident parent and child), can directly impact upon the quality of the relationship ('soft' data). Empirical research/empiricism can be defined as : 'An approach to the study of reality that suggests that only knowledge gained through experience and the senses is acceptable. 5 '

In other words, it can be inferred that concepts must be subjected to the stringency of testing before they can be deemed knowledge. Empirical legal research provides vital insights into how the law works in the real world. This is important when considering law reform in certain areas, as regulatory bodies such as the Government are made aware of the impact which the law has upon its citizens (for example, the way in which legal processes and decisions made in dispute resolutions impact upon the citizen), thereby providing evidence of the need for reform.

Quantitative/qualitative research methods are both instrumental to empirical studies, as they are the methods which are used to obtain official statistics and other empirical data sets which relate to public policy. The evidence produced by these techniques is important for policy development. For example, description and analysis of these areas has enabled deeper theoretical understanding of cross-cutting themes, such as dispute resolution, governance, and family obligations. 6 The empirical approach differs from the 'black letter' approach to legal scholarship because;

'… the black-letter method does not seek to identify deficiencies in the existing law or in its application or the effects of its application on different groups in society, but only to describe what it takes to be the "positive content" of legal doctrine… ' 7 These two approaches are mutually exclusive due to the fact that the Black Letter approach prevents rather than encourages understanding of the range of factors which may underlie any given legal decision. Evaluation: My chosen piece of published research,8 involves a qualitative/quantitative methodology.

Firstly, I am going to base my critical evaluation on the ten questions for appraising Qualitative/quantitative Socio-legal Research. 9 1. Was there a clear statement of the aims of the research? The researcher had a clear aim set out in the research abstract, which was to explore into five different post-separation patterns of non-resident parent-child contact, namely; (i) 'Little or no contact' (ii) 'Holiday-only contact' (iv) 'Daytime-only contact', and (v) 'Standard' contact.

The research theory involved trying to find out the reasons (such as family dynamics and demographic factors), why parents opt for particular patterns of contact and what affects this has on the quality of the relationship. 2. Is the qualitative/quantitative methodology appropriate? Examining different parenting arrangements via mixed methods, can shed light on the qualitatively different experiences these arrangements might provide family members.

Due to the sensitive nature of post separation and the complexity of the situations that parents find themselves in, the research needed to be explored on a face-to-face basis, so as to deepen our understanding as to why a particular pattern of parenting has been adopted and to understand the mind set of these parents. Quantitative collection of data was appropriate to identify the structural factors which determine the type of contact, because a larger data set can be acquired (providing a more representative outcome).

Also, direct contact is not necessary to gain this type of statistical evidence, since it is impersonal. 3. Was the research design appropriate to address the aims of the research? The research process was designed so as to express the causal connections between the type of parenting opted for and the quality of the relationships between children and non-resident parents. It was decided that a quantitative method would also be used to evidence the extent to which different patterns of parenting were linked to demographic elements in the general population of separated/divorced parents.

This part of the research design meant that the findings could be generalised to larger groups of individuals not included in the investigation (perhaps in other jurisdictions) and would thus add to the credibility of the investigation. 4. Was the recruitment strategy appropriate to the aims of the research? The sampling method used to recruit participants was not satisfactory in either the quantitative or qualitative investigations. The 54 separated/divorced parents (27 mothers, 27 fathers) were recruited via a story in a Melbourne newspaper combined with snowball (referral) sampling.

10 The HILDA survey11 focussed on the 63 parents (out of 1,243 divorced/separated parents) who indicated that their child spent at least 30% of the time with each parent, and yet omitted to explain why the participants they selected were the most appropriate to provide access to the type of knowledge sought be the study. More significantly, the separated/divorced parents in each method were not matched pairs of former couples. Therefore, we were only privy to one side of the story.

Indeed, a higher percentage of resident mothers said their children spend at least 30% of time with their non-resident father. A smaller percentage of non-resident fathers agreed. This could indicate the dissatisfaction of non-resident fathers with the current law/contact arrangements. 5. Where the data collected in a way that addressed the research issue? The data was obtained in focus group discussions via passive observation, in-depth discussions/interactions, from an ethnographical position. 12 The importance of the quality of relationships within the research issue was therefore addressed I.

e. words are emphasised rather than quantification. Triangulation13 was also used to demonstrate the interconnection of the variables. 6. Has the relationship between researcher and participants been adequately considered? Considering the methodological issue of reflexivity, there is no suggestion that the observations or actions of the researchers conducting the focus group interviews, affect the situations they are observing or affect the behaviour of the participants, particular within the epistemological setting14.

There is no obvious suggestion of any bias in the quantitative surveys that were carried out. 7. Have ethical issues been taken into consideration? The researcher has not disclosed whether approval has been sought from the ethics committee. Issues of confidentiality could be raised, particularly due to small size of the focus group. The possibility of identification is increased by the fact that recruitment was based on a newspaper story. 8. Was the data analysis sufficiently rigorous?

For each different post-separation pattern of parenting, a rigorous description of the analysis process is provided (supporting the findings). 9. Is there a clear statement of findings? 10. How valuable is the research? There is extensive discussion of the evidence for the researchers' arguments, in relation to the original research aims. The type of contact does appear to influence the quality of the relationship, and the type of contact itself is related to structural factors.