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The Judge is Often a Woman. Professional Perceptions and Practices of Male and Female Family Court Judges in France

Céline Bessière a,b, Muriel Mille c,*

a Université Paris-Dauphine/Institut de recherche interdisciplinaire en sciences sociales (IRISSO), Place du Maréchal de Lattre de Tassigny, 75775 Paris cedex 16, France
b Centre Maurice Halbwachs, 48 boulevard Jourdan, 75014 Paris, France
c Institut Marcel Mauss, 190-198 avenue de France, 75013 Paris, France

* Corresponding Author.

Available online 5 September 2014 on Science direct
doi : 10.1016/j.soctra.2014.07.007

In France, a civil-law country, disputes relating to marital dissolution are heard in the Family Chambers of the Superior Courts (Chambres de la famille des Tribunaux de Grande instance) by a single judge (a family court judge). As the judiciary becomes more feminized, the question of what influence a judge’s gender has over rulings in family cases has become a controversial topic and a media hobbyhorse, under mounting pressure from fathers’ rights organizations. Using the results of a collective survey conducted in four Superior Courts between 2008 and 2010, this article shows that male and female family court judges do not have the same personal and professional paths into the profession and do not take up their jobs under the same circumstances or at the same points in their careers, and thus perceive their roles in quite different ways. Despite all these differences, there is great homogeneity in these judges’ decisions, regardless of their sex.

Keywords : Gender ; Justice ; Career paths ; Judiciary ; Marital dissolutions ; Feminization.

Article Outline

  • 1. Judges responding to mass litigation
  • 2. Female juvenile court judges switching to the family court
    • 2.1. Juvenile court judge by vocation
    • 2.2. From juvenile court to family court : the influence of the and professional constraints
    • 2.3. Female family court judges : pedagogical approach, consensus seeking and social intervention
  • 3. A detour through the family court : the career path of male judges
    • 3.1. Frustration and disgust
    • 3.2. Difficulties in tolerating the private lives of litigants
    • 3.3. A shared negative perception, but different practices : “sanitized” style vs. “provocative” style
  • 4. Exceptions that prove the rule : the social construction of judges’ gender
    • 4.1. Female judges who do not like the family courts
    • 4.2. An activist perception of the family courts : the unusual career of judge Yves Defert
  • 5. Feminization of the judiciary and Family Court rulings
    • 5.1. Male judges appointed to family courts
    • 5.2. Standardized rulings, whatever the judge’s sex
  • 6. Conclusion
  • Acknowledgments
  • Appendices
  • References

Sociologie du travail
Volume 56, Supplement 1, November 2014
Translated by John Crisp