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International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family 1990 4(2):154-185; doi:10.1093/lawfam/4.2.154
© 1990 by Oxford University Press
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RADICAL PRINCIPLES AND THE LEGAL INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE: DOMESTIC RELATIONS LAW AND SOCIAL DEMOCRACY IN SWEDEN

DAVID BRADLEY*

* Department of Law, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton St., London WC2A 2AE. I am very grateful to Professor Anders Agell and Professor Ann Sofie Ohlander of Uppsala University, and to Justice Lars Tottie of the Supreme Administrative Court, Stockholm, for the time they spent in reading and commenting on an earlier draft of this article and for their helpful comments. Errors and opinions in this article are mine. Quotations from the Marriage Code 1987 are from a translation made by Martin Naylor, commissioned by the Faculty of Law, Uppsala and the Swedish Ministry of Justice.

Reforms in Sweden in the last twenty years have produced a distinctive system of domestic relations law. The first objective of this article is to analyse the initial stage in this programme of reforms: the revision of marital capacity and divorce laws in 1973. The immediate practical importance of changes in these two areas will be limited: the introduction of the Swedish Marriage Code of 1920 may well have had a more tangible impact on society. However, the legislation enacted in 1973, which has now been consolidated in a new Marriage Code, altered the foundations of the legal institution of marriage in Sweden. These reforms represent one of many attempts at the development of new principles of social organization in this jurisdiction. The second objective of this article is to identify influences on the development of Swedish domestic relations law. The purpose is not to provide a detailed analysis of the response to commission proposals as they have passed through the ‘remiss’ or consultation stage, and on to Government Bills and legislation. Any broader enquiry than this is inevitably somewhat speculative and risks, for an outsider, superficial and ethnocentric assessments. However, with all these caveats, the argument in this article is that the first stage of the general programme of reforms can be identified with political programmes of the Social Democratic Party, and that beyond this, reforms in Sweden in this area of law appear as the logical product of an ideology developed by a particular form of social democracy. The focus here is on the structure and evolution of Swedish marriage laws: in conclusion an assessment is made of their political significance.


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