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Liberal family law in the making: Nordic and European harmonisation

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This paper discusses the past and contemporary legal harmonisation exercises of family law in the Nordic countries and Europe. The critique is that the harmonised ‹European family law’ only entrenches the status quo and reiterates traditional family patterns, the male norm, heteronormativity, and a public/private divide represented in the neutral guise of a liberal rights discourse. Furthermore, the critics point out that the political economy of legal harmonisation is, to a large extent, ignored. In the Nordic countries, egalitarianism and broad political deliberation characterised much of the previous legal harmonisation, whereas rights discourse in its liberal sense is a novelty, more or less triggered by the European integration. This paper discusses the gendered implications of the emerging rights discourse in the Nordic countries and the linkages between family law, the labour market and social welfare. The paper argues that the harmonisation exercise cannot be regarded as one consisting only of legal norms and reasoning, but rather it should be discussed from the perspective of a political and epistemological challenge to the prevailing ‹truths’ about marriage, family and sexuality.

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I wish to thank the editors, the anonymous referees and the participants of the conference “The Baltic Sea Area at the Crossroads: Political, Legal, Economic, and Cultural Challenges” that was arranged in Umeå, Sweden, in March 2007, for their insightful comments. This paper was written as a part of my research project as the Research Fellow of the Academy of Finland.

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Correspondence to Anu Pylkkänen.

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Pylkkänen, A. Liberal family law in the making: Nordic and European harmonisation. Fem Leg Stud 15, 289–306 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10691-007-9062-1

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  • family law
  • legal harmonisation
  • the European Union
  • the Nordic Model of Marriage
  • sexuality
  • gender division of labour