Skip to main content
×
Home
    • Aa
    • Aa

Spousal Abuse, Children and the Courts: The Case For Social Rather Than Legal Change

  • Linda Neilson (a1)
Abstract
Abstract

This article explores arguments for and against proposals for statutory changes that would require Canadian judges to consider partner or “spousal” abuse when making decisions about child custody and access, in terms of the likely implications for women. The author discusses, in historic context, the relationships of social change to the evolution of social ideology and professional “knowledge” about gender and family and the influences of these on the evolution of family law, in order to demonstrate that legal changes alone are unlikely to produce positive benefits for abused women and their children. Moreover, an analysis of the legal discourse of judges as reported in the Canadian Reports on Family Law between 1983 and 1996 suggests the need for caution. Instead of judicial sensitivity to the special vulnerabilities of women in abusive situations, the case law indicates that judges are applying an “objective” incidents-based approach to assessments of abuse. Because this approach ignores the special vulnerabilities of women and makes it appear that abuse is symmetrical by gender, women may be disadvantaged if judges are required to deny or limit abuser's access to, or custody of, their children. The author concludes that, if what is intended is the protection of abused women and children, the solution lies less in giving more power to judges than in promoting social change through collective action, the evolution of professional “knowledge” that ultimately will find reflection in law, and the allocation of tangible resources for the benefit of abused women and their children.

Résumé

Dans cet article, l'auteure pèse le pour et le contre de certaines modifications à la loi qui obligeraient les juges canadiens, au moment de l'octroi des droits de garde et d'accès, à tenir compte des actes de violence du conjoint ou du conjoint de fait. Elle expose les incidences de telles modifications pour les femmes victimes de violence conjugale. Tentant de démontrer que les modifications à la loi ne peuvent à elles seules améliorer la situation des femmes battues et de leurs enfants, l'auteure fait un survol historique des changements sociaux et de l'évolution du «savoir» professionnel concernant les différences entre les sexes et la notion de famille, et l'impact plus général de cette évolution sur celle du droit de la famille. Or, une analyse du discours judiciaire tel qu'il ressort de la jurisprudence rapportée dans les recueils de droit de la famille entre les années 1983 et 1996 incite à la prudence. En effet, plutôt que de dévoiler une certaine sensibilité judiciaire aux problèmes vécus par les femmes victimes de violence conjugale, la jurisprudence révèle au contraire que les juges abordent la violence conjugale de façon très pragmatique. Cette approche occultant la situation particulière des femmes victimes de violence et envisageant la violence comme phénomène le plus souvent symétrique chez les sexes, les femmes sont défavorisées lorsque les juges limitent ou refusent les droits de garde ou d'accès au père. L'auteure conclut que, si le but des modifications proposées est de protéger les femmes victimes de violence conjugale et leurs enfants, il est davantage souhaitable d'encourager les changements sociaux par l'action collective, le développement du «savoir» professionnel—développement qui, tôt ou tard, trouverait écho dans la loi—et l'octroi effectif de ressources matérielles et financières destinées aux victimes et leurs enfants.

Copyright
Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

M. Straus & R. Gelles , “Societal Change and Change in Family Violence 1975-1985” (1986) 48 Journal of Marriage and the Family 465

D. Fisher , “Why Parents Run” (1990) 5:1 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 123

D. Kurz , “Separation, Divorce, and Women Abuse” (1996) 2:1 Violence Against Women 63

M. Mahoney , “Legal Images of Battered Women: Redefining the Issue of Separation” (1991) 90 Mich. L. Rev. 20

B. J. Hart , “Gentle Jeopardy: The Further Endangerment of Battered Women and Children in Custody Mediation” (1990) 7:4 Mediation Quarterly 317

J. Johnston , M. Kline & J. Tschann , “Ongoing Postdivorce Conflict: Effects on Children of Joint Custody and Frequent Access” (1989) 59:4 American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 576

M. Pagelow , ”Effects of Domestic Violence on Children and Their Consequences for Custody and Visitation Agreements” (1990) 7:4 Mediation Quarterly 347

J. Johnston , R. Gonzalez & L. Campbell , “Ongoing Postdivorce Conflict and Child Disturbance” (1987) 15:4 Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 493

R. Nelson , “Parental Hostility, Conflict and Communication in Joint and Sole Custody Families” (1989) 13:2 Journal of Divorce 145

E. Stark & A. Flitcraft , “Women and Children at Risk: A Feminist Perspective on Child Abuse” (1988) 18:1 International Journal of Health Services 97

J. Johnston and L. Campbell , “Parent-child Relationships in Domestic Violence Families Disputing Custody” (1993) 31:3 Family and Conciliation Courts Review 282

R. Abel , “Law as Lag: Inertia as a Social Theory of Law” (1982) 80 Mich. L. Rev. 785

A. Hunt , The Sociological Movement in Law (London: MacMillan, 1978)

M. Dupuis , “An Analysis of Legal Status of Same Sex Relationships: The Impact of Culture, Society and History in Legal Process in the United States and Denmark” (1995) 9 International Journal of Law and the Family 86

E. Durkheim , The Rules of Sociological Method (New York: Free Press, 1982)

R. Collier , Masculinity, Law and the Family (London: Routledge, 1995)

R. Abel , 'The Contradictions of Professionalism” in School of Justice Studies, Arizona State University, New Directions in the Study of Justice, Law and Social Control (New York: Plenum, 1990) 17

D. Leat , “The Rise and Role of the Poor Man's Lawyer” (1975) 2 Brit. J. of Law & Soc. 166

L. Gordon , ed., Women, the State and Welfare (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990)

P. Elliott , The Sociology of the Professions (London: MacMillan, 1972)

H. Erlanger , E. Chambliss & M. Melli , “Participation and Flexibility in Informal Processes: Cautions from the Divorce Context” (1987) 21:4 Law and Society Review 585

R. H. Mnookin & L. Kornhauser , “Bargaining in the Shadow of the Law: The Case of Divorce” (1979) 88 Yale L.J. 950

A. Sarat and W. Felstiner , “Law and Strategy in the Divorce Lawyer's Office” (1986) 20:1 Law and Society Review 93

C. Ahrons , “The Continuing Coparental Relationship Between Divorced Spouses” (1981) 51:3 American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 415

C. S. Bruch , “Parenting At and After Divorce: A Search for New Models” (1981) 79:1–4 Mich. L. Rev. 708

J. B. Grief , “Fathers, Children and Joint Custody” (1979) 49:2 American Journal of Orthophsychiatry 311

R. D. Hess & K. Camara , “Post-Divorce Family Relationships as Mediating Factors on the Consequences of Divorce for Children” (1979) 35:4 Journal of Social Issues 79

A. Hetherington , E. Cox & R. Cox , “Divorced fathers” (1976) 25 Family Coordinator 417

M. B. Isaacs , “The Visitation Schedule and Child Adjustment: A Three-Year Study” (1988) 27 Family Process 251

G. Barnes , Working With Families (London: MacMillan Education, 1984)

M. E. Bowman & C. R. Ahrons , “Impact of Legal Custody on Father's Parenting Post Divorce” (1985) 47 Journal of Marriage and the Family 481

M. B. Jackson , V. Hovespian & G. Ferrick , “Common Problems in The Mediation of Child Custody Disputes” (1984) 22:2 Conciliation Courts Review 21

V. Shiller , “Loyalty Conflicts and Family Relationships in Latency Age Boys: A Comparison of Joint and Maternal Custody” (1986) 9:4 Journal of Divorce 17

M. Robinson & L. Parkinson , “A Family System's Approach to Conciliation in Separation and Divorce” (1985) 7 Journal of Family Therapy 357

B. E. Carlson , “Adolescent Observers of Marital Violence” (1990) 5:4 Journal of Violence 285

L. Davis & B. Carlson , ”Observation of Spouse Abuse: What Happens to the Children?” (1987) 2:3 Journal of Interpersonal Violence 278

R. Emery , “Interparental Conflict and the Children of Discord and Divorce” (1982) 92:2 Psychological Bulletin 310

J. Fantuzzo & C. Lindquist , “The Effects of Observing Conjugal Violence on Children: A Review and Analysis of Research Methodology” (1989) 4:1 Journal of Family Violence 77

B. Forstrom-Cohen & A. Rosenbaum , “The Effects of Parental Marital Violence on Young Adults: An Exploratory Investigation” (1985) 47 Journal of Marriage and the Family 467

P. Jaffe , “Similarities in Behavioral and Social Maladjustment Among Child Victims and Witnesses to Family Violence” (1985) 56 American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 142

D. Shaw & R. Emery , ”Parental Conflict and Other Correlates of the Adjustment of School-Age Children Whose Parents Have Separated” (1987) 15:2 Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 269

R. P. Dobash , “The Myth of Sexual Symmetry in Marital Violence” (1992) 39 Social Problems 71

C. E. Depner , K. Cannata & M. B. Simon , “Building a Uniform Statistical Reporting System: A Snapshot Study of California Family Court Services” (1992) 30 Family and Conciliation Court Review 185

R. H. Rahe , J. D. McKean & R. J. Arthur , “A Longitudinal Study of Life Changes and Illness Patterns” (1967) 10 Journal of Psychosomatic Research 355

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Canadian Journal of Law and Society / La Revue Canadienne Droit et Société
  • ISSN: 0829-3201
  • EISSN: 1911-0227
  • URL: /core/journals/canadian-journal-of-law-and-society-la-revue-canadienne-droit-et-societe
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 1 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 43 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 23rd June 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.