Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Boyd: “Autonomy for Mothers? Relational Theory and Parenting Apart”

Susan B. Boyd (University of British Columbia Faculty of Law) has posted Autonomy for Mothers? Relational Theory and Parenting Apart, 18 Feminist Legal Studies 137 (2010) on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This article explores the tensions between autonomy and expectations of mother-caregivers, in the context of normative trends in post-separation parenting law. Going back to first principles of feminism, the article asks what scope for autonomy there is for modern mothers in the face of socio-legal norms that prioritize shared parenting. The very relationship between mother-caregivers and children illustrates the important connection between relationships and autonomy: the caregiving that mothers provide enables children to become autonomous persons yet, at the same time, this caregiving relationship constrains maternal autonomy. In the current context that encourages shared parenting, the potential for maternal autonomy may be even more compromised – a deep irony in a supposedly post-feminist era. A responsible mother is now expected to nurture a child’s relationship with the father, unless he is proven to be harmful. The ability of women to be at all autonomous from the fathers of their children in the face of this normative expectation is dubious, even when the adults live separately. Moreover, the dominance of the heterosexual and patriarchal family – always a challenge for women’s autonomy – is reproduced in this imposition of equal parenting in the name of children’s rights. This article uses a contextual approach to relational autonomy to point to an approach that might challenge the normative climate of shared parenting.


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In my research on families with disabled and chronically ill children, I've found that the fathers are more likely to be disengaged than are fathers with other children. Many mothers, conversely, are even more engaged in the care of their children, most of whom require special amounts and types of care. One would imagine that the normative climate of shared parenting might be challenged in this situation, but I'm not finding that to be the case. I'd be interested in knowing if you've found cases involving custody or visitation with disabled or chronically ill childen in which the mother's autonomy gets more respect in light of her unusual caretaking responsibilities.

Posted by: Karen Czapanskiy | Sep 2, 2010 6:13:16 AM

Here is a related article, downloadable for a fee, on the economic aspects of such maternal care-taking activities: Perhaps it has some statistics or case law cites, although it is an economics journal.

Posted by: Margaret Ryznar | Sep 4, 2010 10:01:51 PM

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