Family Justice and the Culture of Parenthood. a Cross-National Comparison of Gender and Class Entanglements (France-Québec)

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 09:00
Oral Presentation
Émilie BILAND-CURINIER, Rennes 2 University, France
This paper studies the culture of parenthood that is conveyed by legal interventions regarding marital dissolutions. It is based on a long-term (2009-2016) collective ethnographic research project that was led in two countries, France and Québec (Canada), in courts as well as in law firms.

It shows that lawyers and judges strongly encourage what they call, along with psychologists and social workers, “coparentalité” (shared parenting). However, this norm does not end with gender inequalities regarding childcare. Women remain exposed to an obligation regime, while interventions targeting men are more likely to be incentives. Those maternal obligations are hardly the product of explicit constraints: in most cases, they are based on consent, which is anchored in gendered socialization and in parental investment prior to divorce.

However gender roles vary a lot across the social ladder. Precarious men tend to deviate from the norm of shared parenting, because of their difficulties on the labor market and because of their distance from legal institutions. In this social group, women remain the main caregivers – they cannot pass away when fathers do not show up. Among middle-class and upper-class fathers, the professional incentives find more echo: these fathers can pay for child alimony and they can mobilize legitimate educational resources with their children. Therefore, middle and upper-class women are enjoined to give them a place, although these fathers’ involvement remains very variable.

These gender-class entanglements depend on national contexts. In France, the norm of shared parenthood is mainly defined in symbolic terms, whereas in Québec, it has got a practical sense. Shared physical custody is then more frequent in Québec than in France, as well as child support payments. Canadian middle-class mothers are more likely to get child support that their French equivalents. Their openness to sharing childcare is counterpart to economic “joint parenthood”.