“... He’s Just Swapped His Fists for the System” The Governance of Gender through Custody Law

Gender and Society 26 (2):239-260 (2012)
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In this article, we investigate the state’s role in the reproduction of relations of male dominance between separated parents through custody law. We argue that three “logics” shape the current operation of family law—durability, gender neutrality and present/future temporality—such that custody law is not simply a mechanism of dispute resolution between parents; it is also a vehicle for the differential production, positioning, and regulation of mothers and fathers as postseparation parents. Drawing on interviews with 21 mothers, we show that the outcome of the state’s governance of gender through custody law for women in dispute over care and contact arrangements is that nonresident fathers are able to engage in nonreciprocal exercises of power over resident mothers. The consequence for resident mothers is that nonresident fathers are able to legitimately use the law to threaten and coerce mothers, and to protect their interests and rights at the expense of mothers’ needs for and rights to security and autonomy.



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