Critical Directions in Comparative Family Law: Genealogies and Contemporary Studies of Family Law Exceptionalism

25 Pages Posted: 24 Jul 2011  

Kerry Rittich

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law

Janet E. Halley

Harvard Law School; Stanford Law School

Date Written: 2010


This is an Introduction to a Special Issue of the American Journal of Comparative Law, edited by Janet Halley. The central theme of the Special Issue is "family law exceptionalism": the myriad ways in which the family and its law are deemed, either descriptively or normatively, to be special. We argue that the nineteenth century emergence of Family Law as a distinct legal topic, influenced inter alia by Friedrich Carl von Savigny and carried around the world as part of the influence of German legal thought, was an intrinsic element of the rise of contract as the law of the market. Our comparative approach to this phenomenon in this volume is twofold. First, we think that colonial expansion brought with it the idea of the family/market, family-law/contract-law distinction, and that legal orders around the world emerged in which this distinction played some important role. This is the Genealogical Project, and it occupies essays collected here by Duncan Kennedy, Isabel Sierra Jaramillo, Philomila Tsoukala, and Lama Abu Odeh. Second, we suspend Family Law Exceptionalism in order to study the Economic Family. Historically and in the present context of globalized labor, we emphasize international, regional, and local law as transplanted, intersecting or nested background rule systems in which households form and provide social security, consume, and produce material and other goods. Tsoukala, Abu Odeh, Hila Shamir, Chantal Thomas, and Kerry Rittich provide essays exemplifying this research. The Special Issue begins with an essay by Fernanda Nicola mapping the comparative family law tradition and situating this volume on its critical branch.

Keywords: Family Law, family law exceptionalism

Suggested Citation

Rittich, Kerry and Halley, Janet E., Critical Directions in Comparative Family Law: Genealogies and Contemporary Studies of Family Law Exceptionalism (2010). American Journal of Comparative Law, Vol. 58, No. 4, p. 753, 2010. Available at SSRN:

Kerry Rittich (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

78 and 84 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5

Janet E. Halley

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States
650-723-2569 (Phone)
650-725-0253 (Fax)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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