Feminist Legal Studies

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 25–45 | Cite as

Judging in Marriage’s Shadow

  • Robert Leckey


This paper contributes to feminist debates on cohabitation by studying judicial discourse after legal reform. It examines how Canadian judges speak about cohabitation and decide whether cohabitants qualify as “spouses” for the purposes of property sharing. Judges assess cohabitants against an ideal of companionate marriage with gendered and class overtones. A contrasting tendency is to disavow moral judgments by declaring openness to a diversity of relationships. It seems difficult to operationalize cohabitation as a relationship form distinct from marriage. Indeed, the cases undermine assertions that reform makes married couples and cohabitants equal. Efforts to “modernize” family law appear to give new life to traditional ideals of the good marriage.


Cohabitation Equality Family law Judicial discourse Marriage 



I acknowledge research funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the research assistance of Mélisande Charbonneau-Gravel, Jonathan Deschamps, Guillaume Renaud, and Maia Stevenson. Earlier versions benefited from the comments of Nick Bala, Kim Brooks, Mélisande Charbonneau-Gravel, Daniel Monk, Mary Jane Mossman and Maia Stevenson, students in my Fall 2017 class of Droit de la famille, as well as the journal’s external reviewers and editorial board.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of LawMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada

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