The negociation of divorce agreements and gender (in)equality in Switzerland Directed by Michelle Cottier & Eric Widmer

This project at the intersection of sociology of law and life course sociology aims to contribute to a better understanding of gender dynamics in divorce by studying the impact of different concepts of gender equality present in the legal context on the negotiation of divorce agreements between different-sex couples with children in Switzerland.

The research design consists of

  1. a study of legal sources,
  2. a quantitative survey of Swiss family lawyers,
  3. qualitative in-depth interviews with lawyers and divorcees.


This project draws on empirical studies on concepts of gender equality present in Swiss legal practice in the 1990s (Binkert & Wyss 1997) and in the early years of the 21st century (Büchler et al. 2009). In the 90s, Binkert & Wyss (1997) identified three gender conceptions. The traditionalist interpretation sees the gendered division of labour as given by nature, ensures that the husband’s economically privileged position is not questioned and means his interests generally prevail. The formal-egalitarian interpretation demands that the wife should speedily achieve financial independence, ignoring the reality of unequal distribution of childcare responsibilities after separation, and leads to low levels of maintenance after divorce. The compensatory interpretation sees mothers as the primary caregivers, who need to be compensated through generous maintenance payments for their care work, but it also reinforces their position as caregivers and mothers. Our project aims at understanding how concepts of gender equality have developed since the study by Binkert & Wyss.


Interdisciplinarity is at the heart of our project drawing from two disciplines, law and sociology. It is clearly reflected in the core research team: a law professor (Michelle Cottier), a law PhD candidate (Bindu Sahdeva), a sociology professor (Eric D. Widmer), and a sociology post-doc research (Gaëlle Aeby). The two conferences are good examples of this fruitful interdisciplinary work.

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