JCJC SHS 1 - JCJC - SHS 1 - Sociétés, Espaces, Organisations et Marchés

Separating Couples in Courts. Comparing Family Justice in France and Quebec – RUPTURES

Submission summary

Confronted for forty years with an increase in the number of separating couples, family policies in Europe and North America tend to converge, which makes it all the more necessary to compare them. In that perspective, this pluridisciplinary research program, involving legal scientists, political scientists and sociologists, will study family policies from the courtrooms which deal with the mass litigation of separating couples.
Following an exploratory inquiry in French and Quebec courtrooms, we will carry out an ambitious comparison between these two territories (France and Quebec), which are both endowed with extended prerogatives in the matter of family law, and belong to a common legal tradition. Three hypotheses serve us as a starting point : first, the decreasing role of legal norms in public action, reflected by the progressive dejudiciarization of divorce and separation proceedings ; second, the lessening power of judges, faced with the promotion of agreements between the parties ; third, the part played by justice in the strengthening or the weakening of social inequalities, especially between men and women, at a moment of their lives when domestic economy is reconfigured.
In order to test theses hypotheses, this research program resorts to three approaches : an inquiry on the international circulation of the instruments of family law ; an ethnographic research in seven courts of justice ; the development and the analysis of a database drawn from a sample of judiciary files recorded in these courts.
The originality of this research program relies first on the combination of methods which will be implemented, favourable to a greater cumulativity of results. Second, we intend to study both the separations of married and un-married couples, whereas a large part of the literature is focused only on divorces. The use of judiciary ethnography, which is still rather uncommon, is another specific feature of this research, especially as it combines the observation of hearings, complemented by the reading of the corresponding files and by interviews with the judges. The quantitative analysis of judiciary files will also deal with a crucial lack of data : it will enable us to link proceeding data and the socio-demographic characteristics of the separating couples, in order to objectivate the social and judiciary determinants of separation proceedings. The international comparison will not only aim at comparing the general framing of family policies, but also intends to produce an in-depth and multi-sited ethnography based on a common research protocol.
The French and Quebec research teams, which have already been working together, have defined common principles of coordination : a mutualisation of the research materials, the building of bridges between the two countries and between the three dimensions of the research, and the circulation of the researchers between France and Quebec. In both places, contacts have already been made with judiciary institutions : the access to the data, according to norms approved by them, has already been ensured. This research finally aims at developing knowledge on the contribution of the actors and the activity of justice to public policies and to family configurations, and will result in several academic publications, as well as in dissemination towards justice professionals and a wider public.

Project coordination

Céline BESSIERE (Centre Maurice Halbwachs) – celine.bessiere@dauphine.fr

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


CNRS-CMH Centre Maurice Halbwachs

Help of the ANR 186,420 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: October 2012 - 36 Months

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