Enforcing Paternal Responsibilities: Legal Disputes over Family Maintenance and Custody
Chapter 6 argues that the adjudication of family law after independence had political implications. Until the 1850s Chilean judges required fathers (and occasionally other family members) to provide for their dependents. Faced with an increase in lawsuits for maintenance, especially from offspring, judges enforced medieval Spanish laws on paternal responsibilities even toward those living outside their households: to wives who were suing for or had won ecclesiastical separations, to children born out of wedlock, and to adult legitimate offspring who were not self-supporting at a level befitting their status in society. Lawsuits over custody were more complicated, as they not only pitted mothers against fathers but also parents against third parties who took children into their homes as servants. Although the law favored fathers in the case of legitimate children and mothers in the case of out-of-wedlock offspring, the relative class standing and reputations of the contending parties influenced sentencing.