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Journal Issue: Children and Divorce Volume 4 Number 1 Spring/Summer 1994

A Feminist Perspective on Divorce
June R. Carbone

Summary

Feminist perspectives on divorce proceed from the ways in which women's positions at divorce systematically differ from men's positions. Although there has been a large-scale increase in mothers' labor force participation, there has been no corresponding increase in fathers' domestic contributions, and women continue to bear the overwhelming responsibility for child rearing. In substantial part because of this division of labor within the family, divorcing women, on average, face bleaker financial prospects and enjoy closer emotional ties to their children than do their former husbands. Existing divorce law, with its emphasis on each party's self-sufficiency, limited provision for child support, and gender-neutral custody principles, does not fully recognize or address these differences.

Feminists differ in the responses they propose to these issues. "Liberal feminists" believe that women's domestic responsibilities will inevitably place them at a disadvantage and favor policies that encourage men to assume a proportionate share of family responsibilities. "Cultural feminists," or "feminists of difference," believe that it is not the fact that women care for children but that child rearing is so undervalued which is the source of the problem. "Radical feminists" believe that it is impossible to know whether women's involvement in child rearing would differ from men's in a different society and focus on the ways in which marriage and work force policies perpetuate male dominance. All agree, however, that existing law contributes to the relative impoverishment of many women and children and that, even when the rules purport to be gender-neutral, they are administered in systematically biased ways.