Family law dispute resolution: procedural justice and the lawyer-client interaction

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

While several Australian and international studies have explored the family lawyer-client interaction, these studies have been limited to investigations of discrete areas of the lawyerclient relationship and have been necessarily limited in their methodologies. The present study employed a quantitative empirical methodology in an Australian wide field study of 230 family lawyers and 94 clients that investigated the family lawyer-client interaction from a procedural justice framework. Using multivariate analyses, the study establishes that the Tyler and Blader two-component model of procedural justice applies in the lawyer-client dyad and is influenced by the approach of the lawyer, the emotional response of the client, and the level of co-party conflict that the client is experiencing. Further, the study gives meaning to the terms 'conciliatory and constructive' and 'adversarial' as they apply to family law dispute resolution. The study establishes a construct to measure the conciliatory and adversarial approach of family lawyers and identifies that lawyers tend to incorporate a mixture of the two into their work. The results also identify four distinct behavioural factors that characterise the two approaches: the client-centred and interest-based factors characterise the conciliatory approach; and the lawyer-directed and court-focused factors characterise the adversarial. The study found that in terms of perceptions of fairness, and feelings of satisfaction, the clients preferred the lawyers who took a client-centred and interest-based approach, but in circumstances where the clients were experiencing high-levels of conflict, or fear for the safety of their children, they also appreciated the lawyer who was lawyer-directed and court-focused. Overall, the study shows that in order to create a fair and satisfying dispute resolution service for their clients, family lawyers need to maintain a fine balance of family lawyering behaviour. On a general level, the study provides a profile of Australian family lawyers in terms of their approach to dispute resolution, their attitude towards ADR processes and their favoured negotiation styles. It also profiles family law clients in terms of their emotional adjustment to the divorce and their perceptions of the family lawyers assisting them to resolve their disputes. The study substantially expands the procedural justice theory base and has significant implications for practical family law education, government policy, family lawyering, and the ADR and collaborative law movements. The study indicates where future research could benefit these communities.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2008

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