chapter  12
19 Pages

Relational autonomy and family law

ByJONATHAN HERRING

Autonomy has achieved a ‘sacred status’1 not only among lawyers, but within the wider society. The themes of independence, self-determination and choice play a major role in public debates and popular culture. Many of the heroes of our day: Jack Bauer, James Bond, Jason Bourne fight alone against the wicked powers that be: they are the epitome of the isolated autonomous man. The themes of independence, autonomy and choice resonate in public policy statements from the government.2 This chapter will consider the role played by autonomy in family law. It will argue against placing weight on autonomy as it is popularly understood, and instead argue in favour of using the notion of relational autonomy. Autonomy at its most simple is a recognition that individuals should be

allowed to make decisions for themselves. Joseph Raz defines it in this way:

The ruling idea behind the ideal of personal autonomy is that people should make their own lives. The autonomous person is a (part) author of his own life. The ideal of personal autonomy is the vision of people controlling, to some degree, their own destiny, fashioning it through successive decisions throughout their lives.3