- Gouverner la vie privée. L’encadrement inégalitaire des séparations conjugales en France et au Québec by E. Biland
This book analyses the organization and handling of marital separation in France and Quebec, through the lens of the impacts of the state’s action on private life and in particular the reproduction of inequalities. The research is based on a major empirical study (mainly observations and interviews) as well as international comparisons. Informed readers will not be surprised to discover that not all couples are equal when it comes to divorce. The book’s main contribution is how it both demonstrates and illustrates the reproduction of inequalities ‘in the making’, as legal systems deal with the separation of couples, without losing sight of the role of broader political and social contexts. Its comparative approach is a key methodological tool, illustrating mechanisms specific to each context.
Separations are handled in different ways in France and Quebec, with different consequences for families, whether in economic terms, through the award of compensation and alimony, or in terms of relationships between family members, through the definition of childcare arrangements and visitation rights. Gender inequalities are markedly present throughout the process, as fathers and mothers face different expectations and situations. The book highlights the factors behind these differences, which are mainly based in legal cultures, political configurations, and social norms. Many examples, drawn from real interactions between legal professionals and families collected by the author in the two countries, illustrate how these factors are articulated. Biland uses her empirical materials to offer a lively and complex portrait of the reproduction of inequalities and to show to what extent it is embedded in the norms and practices of various actors and institutions involved in organizing marital separations. From the expectations of lawyers and judges to rules for putting together a ‘good’ case, social inequalities permeate interactions and influence the course of the process.
Despite the differences between the ways separations are handled in the two countries, similarities also emerge. In both countries, the process reproduces inequalities, whether socio-economic (slightly more in Quebec) or gender-based (slightly more in France). The same family configuration ends up on the losing end in both cases: single-parent families and particularly mothers from less advantaged backgrounds. This is the family structure that faces the highest risk of poverty in Europe. It is thus important that separations, often at the origin of this situation, be handled in ways that are more supportive to these families.
Finally, the book also invites us to imagine solutions that would make separations more egalitarian, and it underscores the need for fundamental change. Simply transposing particular practices from one country to another, however promising, would neglect their necessary articulation with each context in its complexity, as this book so richly illustrates. [End Page 601]