Equality: An Uncomfortable Fit in Parenting Law

Susan B. Boyd, Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia


Since the second wave of the women’s movement and the emergence of the fathers’ rights movement in the 1970s and 1980s, family law has moved towards formal legal equality and gender-neutral language. Early liberal feminists were optimistic about involving men as equal partners and parents and were keen to remove gender-based legal assumptions. Fathers’ rights advocates lobbied for equal or joint custody norms and for mothers to have equal financial responsibilities, in order to redress what was and still is perceived as discrimination against men. In most modern family laws, male and female spouses now owe reciprocal duties of financial support and disputes over children are determined by a child’s best interests, rather than by assumptions based on gender. More recently, this gender-neutral language has accommodated the reality of same-sex partnerships and same-sex parenting.