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Louisa Gothard
Louisa Gothard
Senior Solicitor, Head of Family Law
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Solidarity, autonomy and equality: mixed messages for the family? [2015] CFLQ 223
Date:6 JAN 2016
Keywords: Family solidarity - autonomy - equality - dependency

Whereas solidarity was the backbone of both family life and (patriarchal) family law, autonomy (and equality) are arguably becoming the concepts of reform within modern family law. Yet whilst autonomy is an alluring concept and one which is difficult to argue against from an individual perspective, this article challenges its suitability as a driving principle of family regulation. It is suggested that the players within family life (in all styles of relationship) do not have and perhaps cannot be assumed to be able to achieve sufficient substantive equality for autonomy to rule the private family sphere, where structural issues and gendered social norms within wider society expose some family members more than others to relationship-generated disadvantage. Rather, this article argues that we need to address the mixed messages being sent by recognising the need for interdependence within family life and the obstacles to substantive equality and autonomy in this frame. This is best done by promoting the positive notion of family solidarity as the centre-piece of family law, rather than autonomy, which, it is suggested, would avoid falling prey to the negative association with victimhood that has been experienced by notions of dependency and vulnerability in these debates.
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