An International Seminar on Family Demography and Family Law all around the Clock  

Virtual sessions, between 28 October and 16 December 2020


The IUSSP Panel on Family Demography and Family Law had planned to hold a regular two-day seminar last March in Montreal under a generic title: “An International Seminar on Family Demography and Family Law around the World”. The pandemic forced us to turn our seminar into a series of virtual sessions that took place this autumn and that we renamed, at least unofficially, “An International Seminar on Family Demography and Family Law all around the Clock”. The original sessions were organized in a conventional way, grouping presentations by themes. For the virtual sessions, we did our best to group them by optimizing on two criteria: topic and time zones. The seven sessions were programmed on Wednesdays and spread out between 28 October and 16 December, some starting as early as 5 am EST and other as late as 8 pm EST. Video recordings of the 7 sessions are available here.


In the first session, titled Comparative and theoretical research, Ewa Batrya and Luca Maria Pesando presented their work on the extent to which changes in age-at-marriage laws are effective in curbing early marriage in sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia and South Asia, concluding that laws were insufficient in themselves ant that policy implementation and enforcement are necessary preconditions for actual change. Cécile Bourreau-Dubois presented an economic analysis of the relations between family law and family policy centered mainly on an economic analysis of the costs of divorce and their allocation between the family, the state and the market, concluding with suggestions on policies that may reduce the social cost of the externalities generated by union breakdown.


The second and third sessions grouped papers on marriage, law and the family in common law countries. Shoshana Grossbard presented an overview of her recent and current research on family law and fertility, with a special reference to her work in historical demography that shows that before the abolition of coverture, some American women forfeited marriage and had children out of wedlock to avoid the loss of legal personality and property that marriage imposed on women. Victoria Vernon presented an econometric analysis of the pros and cons of common-law marriage in the United States, the peculiar legal institution still extent in some states in which an unmarried stable relationship can be recognized as a marriage by a court by the petition of just one of the partners. She concludes that her results support the case for the abolition of common-law marriage given that the net social benefits of the law are likely negative. In an interesting counterpoint, Haley Fisher presented a study of the consequences of the extension of some of the rights and duties of marriage to unmarried cohabiting couples in Australia and concluded that this extension was beneficial because the partners could invest more in their relationship, concentrate on the traditional roles, benefit from specialisation and, actually, become happier.


The fourth and fifth sessions grouped papers on special topics in the non-English-speaking Americas. The presentation by Wanda Cabella and Mariana Fernández Soto focused on the spread of consensual union and fertility within consensual union in Uruguay over the last 30 years, showing that this spread occurred across educational levels although more common among the less educated, in a context where partners are not imposed the rights and duties of marriage and where the registration of consensual union, although available, is very rarely used. Two papers were about Quebec, where the seminar was originally scheduled to be held. Hélène Belleau and Maude Pugliese compared retirement savings strategies of married and unmarried couples in Quebec, where all forms of retirement savings are equalized upon divorce for married couples, but are separate for unmarried couples despite survivors’ pensions being available to unmarried couples as it is for married ones. Their results show that unmarried couples are not as prone as married ones to pool retirement savings. Marie-Ève Paré presented an overview of the current research related to ethnocultural diversity and legal pluralism in Quebec, where the flow of immigrants from countries whose family law may be very different creates a context in which they are prone to choose alternative rather than institutional conflict resolution schemes and forces judges and lawmakers to consider giving some weight to elements of “foreign” law in matters such as adoption.


The last two sessions grouped papers on country specific studies. Hyuna Moon and Minja Choe examined how the legal status of children born within or outside marriage has been treated in the Civil code of 1958, in the 1989 revision and in the 2005 revision. They show that the strong link between marriage and childbearing in Korea was partly created by the law and played a significant role in the advent of low fertility. Lorretta Ntoimo studied the award of child custody in Nigeria's customary courts, which base their rulings on customary law as well as on the Matrimonial Causes Act and the Child Right Act and finds that in almost all the cases she looked at, the court awarded custody to the father, the influence of customary law being overwhelming. She points to the need to reform customary and family laws in Nigeria to ensure greater gender equality. 


At the time this article is being submitted, the last session has not yet taken place and some results remain a surprise. Alessandra De Rose will examine the patterns of conjugal behaviour following the dissolution of the first marriage before and after the 2015 reform of Italian law that made divorce easier. Md Mehedi Hasan Khan will discuss the changes in family structure and dynamics that have hampered the maintenance of the increasing number of older persons in Bangladesh and led the government to pass the Parents’ Care Act 2013, which imposes the maintenance of older people by their kin, thus enforcing by law what until recently had been a strong tradition. Gaëlle Meslay will examine the factors influencing the choice of same-sex couples to get married in France, where approximately one-third of same-sex couples get married, which is a high rate in comparison with other European countries. Her preliminary results showed that sociodemographic differences do not seem to explain much and points towards the importance of legislation.


The original seminar was planned for 24 presenters and attendees. Each of the virtual session was attended by about 12 people on average, despite the time differences, and a total of 36 people accessed the papers and recorded session.  The series of virtual sessions has juste ended and the organizers will now move to the task of organizing the publication of a selection of the papers.