Rainbow family formation and dissolution in Australia

A scoping review of the academic literature
Parenting and guardianship LGBTIQ+ Family law Same-sex marriage Separated families Australia

The family as a structure has long been one of the central organising features of Australian society and societies around the world. Australia defines, values, measures, and regulates familial groups through social life, policy, and the law. The family law system both supports and regulates the ways families form and dissolve. The aim of this study was to summarise and identify key themes within the Australian academic literature relating to rainbow family formation and dissolution and family law services.

A systematic search of key databases and journals yielded 17 articles that met the inclusion criteria. Seven sub-themes have been categorised within three primary themes of heteronormativity, family formation and family dissolution. Several strengths and gaps in the current evidence base have been identified. A key finding from this review has been that very little is known about how rainbow families separate or their experiences with family law services during dissolution.

Key messages:

  • Very little is known about how rainbow families access and experience family law services. What is clear is that their interactions with other services are often marred by homophobia, discrimination and heteronormative assumptions.
  • Heteronormativity impacts rainbow families’ decision making, their experiences of parenting spaces and services, feeling of legitimacy, and community support.
  • Pathways to parenthood for rainbow families involve more and more complex decisions than for hetero families, methods for conception include sperm donation, surrogacy and previous hetero relationships.
  • Rainbow family dissolution remains a largely invisible experience in the literature.
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