Advanced Research Consortium on Gender, Culture and the Knowledge Society

Research Seminar


Global Women’s Studies and Gender ARC at NUI Galway are pleased to invite you to:

Dr. Lucy-Ann Buckley

Gender, autonomy and family agreements: Lessons for Ireland from Canada?

Date: Wednesday 3 December
Time: 1.00-2.00pm
Venue: Room 1001, First Floor, Hardiman Research Building, NUI Galway


Abstract: Prenuptial and separation agreements pose difficulties for legal systems with equality concerns. Such agreements commonly limit the spouses’ maintenance and property entitlements on marital breakdown. They therefore particularly affect women, who tend to earn less than men, while bearing a greater childcare burden. Nevertheless, many legal systems routinely apply liberal concepts of autonomy, and uphold family property agreements on the grounds of ‘respecting choice’. However, legal intervention is also problematic, as it risks undermining women’s agency. Accordingly, family property agreements pose a dilemma for many feminists. One response to this difficulty has been to posit alternative models of autonomy, based on relational concerns. However, it is unclear whether courts are willing to adopt relational autonomy perspectives when approaching family property agreements, or whether it would make any real difference, were they to do so. This paper analyses Irish and Canadian approaches to marital financial agreements from a relational autonomy perspective, focusing primarily on the judicial conceptualization of autonomy in each jurisdiction. It argues that relational autonomy theory has had a significant impact in Canada. However, it also argues that relational theory has not always had the effect that many feminists might expect, though it can be vital in some cases. Autonomy issues in the spousal agreement context have as yet received little attention in Ireland, but are likely to become much more significant in Ireland following recent Supreme Court decisions. Accordingly, Irish courts must begin to address the meaning of autonomy in this context. In this regard, the paper argues that Irish judges may learn valuable lessons from the Canadian experience.


Dr Lucy-Ann Buckley has lectured in Law at NUI Galway since 1999, having previously lectured at the University of Warwick and the University of Limerick. She is a graduate of University College Cork, the University of Oxford, and Trinity College Dublin, and is also a qualified solicitor. She has published widely on family law, labour law and equality issues (particularly gender equality). Particular research interests to date include the law of sexual harassment, and financial provision on marital breakdown in Ireland. Her current research focuses on gender equality issues in legal approaches to autonomy, particularly in the family context. She is especially interested in the legal recognition of caring work and contributions to family life, and in the effects of caring roles on employment participation. Lucy is a member of the Gender and Public Policy Cluster at the Whitaker Institute. She is also a member of the Irish Feminist Judgments Project, a multidisciplinary project based in the Universities of Durham and Kent and the London School of Economics, which aims to rewrite key Irish legal judgments from a feminist perspective.


For further information, please contact Gender ARC LSS coordinator Emma Brännlund: e.brannlund1@nuigalway.ie

Advanced Research Consortium on Gender, Culture and the Knowledge Society