Gender and Class Inequalities in Access to Family Justice (France-Québec)

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Émilie BILAND-CURINIER, Rennes 2 University, France
Since the 1970s, along with the unprecedented increase of marital dissolutions, major changes have occurred in the ways the legal profession intervenes in family disputes. Across Western countries, adjudication through the Courts has become less common, whereas alternative dispute resolution devices have involved more and more ex-partners. From a public policy standpoint, these trends follow two main rationales. They are inspired by liberal ideas, which supports individual rights; they also aim to ease the financial burden of Court adjudication, both for litigants and for public spending.

The paper aims to assess the effects of such changes on class and gender inequalities regarding legal services. It is based on a long-term (2009-2016) collective qualitative and quantitative research project that was led in two Western jurisdictions: France – a civil-law country – and Québec (Canada) – whose legal tradition mixes civil law and common law influence.

In both jurisdictions, the diversification of ways and means for family disputes has led to large class inequalities. Upper-class families manage to choose, and to combine, intervenors from the public sector (judges) and from the private sector (expensive lawyers). But working-class litigants have less scope to decide who counsel them and they depend on public-funded services, which may be difficult to access or less accurate.

Gender inequalities add to these class inequalities: working-class women are the first to be targeted by public interveners, while precarious men tend to be left out by them and have to deal with the procedures on their own.

In Quebec, this diversification is much higher, so that class inequalities are larger than in France. In the former, the “each according to need” official goal is rather an “each according to means” system. In the latter, adjudication through the Courts is still massive, but it varies a lot depending on social status.