Photo taken in Beirut: from left to right, Pascale Fournier, the two organizers of the international workshop “Mediation in the Lebanese Legal System” and Professor Fournier’s research assistant, Sahar Ghadhban.

In Lebanon, attempts at putting in place a secular family law system have always failed. As a result, family law remains exclusively administered by the 18 officially recognized religious communities, i.e. by religious courts. Civil marriage is thus not a legal option in Lebanon, a trait the latter shares with countries such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Jordan. In parallel, certain Western jurisdictions (of which many Canadian provinces) have developed a family mediation regime to dejudicialize family disputes and foster consensual dispute resolution, thereby granting parties significant decisional autonomy. Family mediation has attracted growing interest in many countries, Western and non-Western. That is the case in Lebanon, where a bill making family mediation available upon divorce is currently under scrutiny. This bill has created intense controversy in a constitutional landscape where, in matters of personal status, religious law purports to reign supreme and contractual freedom is practically non-existent. Professor Fournier has participated directly in these debates in an international workshop dispensed to Lebanese lawyers in Beirut under the auspices of the United Nations in June 2013. This workshop dealt precisely with family mediation in Lebanon and Palestine.

The goal of this project is to examine the eventual impact of family mediation on the condition of Lebanese women navigating religious family law. The hypothesis which underlines this project is that, despite certain negative effects, family mediation presents some advantages for Lebanese women in that it allows them to circumvent the formal judicial system by legitimating normative orders lying beyond state (religious) law. To test this hypothesis according to which family mediation offers Lebanese women interesting strategic avenues, Professor Fournier will undertake socio-legal fieldwork consisting in seven interviews with Lebanese women from the seven most important Muslim and Christian sects, i.e. Maronites, Orthodox Greeks, Melkite Catholics, Orthodox Armenians, Sunnis, Shi’as and the Druze. Participants will be interrogated as to inter alia their family situation, their experiences with the religious legal system and their perceptions of family mediation.

Financial Support:

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada – Religion and Diversity Project (MCRI) ($9875)