The Changing Concept of ‘Family’ and Challenges for Domestic Family Law
Edited by Jens M. Scherpe
Chapter 9: The changing concept of ‘family’ and challenges for family law in the Nordic countries
Legal equality between husband and wife was attained in the Nordic countries in the 1920s. New groups – cohabitants and same-sex couples – have been included in the family concept since then. In the last three to four decades children have shifted from being treated as objects in the legal system to being the holders of rights. Today, attention is shifting towards the realisation of these rights, for example the right of children to be heard and to be separately represented. Equality between the sexes and the individualisation of family law has brought the judicial system deeper into the private sphere of people’s lives and with it the emergence of new issues both in horizontal and vertical family law. Currently, a total of 26 million inhabitants live in the Nordic countries: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The Nordic countries have been affected by the same demographic changes as many other European countries: a significant increase in divorce rates after the Second World War and the rise of cohabitation at the expense of marriage. Today, about one in four of all couples are cohabitants, and the proportion of births outside marriage is more than 50 per cent. However, many cohabiting couples marry after a period of cohabitation. The marriage age for first marriage is now about 32 years for women and about 34–35 years for men.
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