Journal Article

MUST THE PERSONAL BE POLITICAL? FAMILY LAW AND THE CONCEPT OF FAMILY

LAURENCE D. HOULGATE

in International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family

Volume 12, issue 1, pages 107-119
Published in print April 1998 | ISSN: 1360-9939
Published online April 1998 | e-ISSN: 1464-3707 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/lawfam/12.1.107
MUST THE PERSONAL BE POLITICAL? FAMILY LAW AND THE CONCEPT OF FAMILY

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This paper looks at the ongoing dispute between traditionalists and feminists about the nature of the relationship between family law and the family. The traditionalist position is that since the family is a group of persons who are in a particular ethical relationship with one another, then there is an essential dissimilarity between the family and positive family law. The feminist, on the other hand, argues that the family and family law are identical. According to one interpretation of the now famous slogan ‘the personal is political’, the feminist position is that the family is a political or legal institution in which the rights and obligations of family members are defined by and cannot exist apart from the legal system. Hence, on her view, the suggestion that the law ‘intervenes’ in the family is a ‘myth’.

The aims of this paper are first, to offer an interpretation of the idea of legal intervention in the family that makes this a meaningful notion. Second, to examine several interpretations of the feminist claim that the law necessarily intervenes in the family. Third, to show that although there is only one version of this claim that is plausible, this interpretation is consistent with some of the central claims about the relationship between law and the family that have been made by traditionalists.

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Subjects: Family Law ; Marriage and the Family

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