Child Custody Disputes: The Role of Social Workers

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 09:15
Location: Hörsaal 24 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Paula CASALEIRO, Centre for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra, Portugal
The relationship between law and other knowledge is not new and arises as a concern of the socio-legal studies, since the twentieth century. These studies have used the concepts of “trading zone” and “boundary work” to describe the conditions and modalities of dialogue and negotiation between law and other knowledge, in which they are mutually transformed.

The recent changes to the Portuguese regulatory regime of parental responsibilities narrowed the relation of law and justice with other knowledge, such as social work or psychology. In the current legal regime, in the absence of agreement between parents, it is mandatory to carry out a social, moral and economic survey (social report), that’s done by the Court Support Multidisciplinary Teams (EMAT, composed mainly by social workers). According to Bolieiro and Guerra (2009) the use of these surveys is increasingly common and often the judge decides based only on these social reports. Simultaneously, there has been a gradual increase of family disruption and the (consequent) demand of courts regarding the judicial regulation of parental responsibilities (Pedroso et al., 2012), which has given social, media and academic visibility to interdisciplinary nature of this judicial cases.

This communication aims to analyze how judges, public prosecutors and social workers act and interact in the judicial regulation of parental responsibilities, contributing or not to the (re)production of gender inequalities. Through the analysis of child custody proceedings, we intend to examine how non-legal reports and opinions of social workers are integrated and interpreted in court decisions and examine to what extent the conformation or not to the traditional gender roles and parenting is present in technical and scientific advice and in judicial decisions.