The medicalization of family judicial conflicts: A path towards normalization



medicalization, normalization, regulation of parental responsibilities, medicalización, normalización, regulación de responsabilidades parentales


This article aims to provide a critical reflection on the process of medicalization of judicial family and children conflicts, exploring how the medical and social science (psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers) discourses and professionals are mingled in Portuguese civil guardianship proceedings. Through the content analysis of a set of judicial processes, we conclude that not only do medical assumptions resonate in the rules of child custody, but there is a tendency in these processes to reduce family conflicts to and treat them as pathological problems and to adopt medical and/or therapeutic and not “exclusively” judicial solutions. The aim is to normalize family and parental relationships that are outside the norm.

Este artículo pretende ofrecer una reflexión crítica sobre el proceso de medicalización de los conflictos judiciales de la familia y la infancia, explorando cómo se mezclan los discursos y los profesionales de la medicina y las ciencias sociales (psicólogos, psiquiatras, trabajadores sociales) en los procesos de tutela civil portugueses. A través del análisis de contenido de un conjunto de procesos judiciales, concluimos que no sólo resuenan los supuestos médicos en las normas de custodia de los hijos, sino que existe una tendencia, en estos procesos, a reducir los conflictos familiares y tratarlos como problemas patológicos y a adoptar soluciones médicas y/o terapéuticas y no “exclusivamente” judiciales. El objetivo es normalizar las relaciones familiares y parentales que están fuera de la norma.

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Author Biography

Paula Casaleiro, Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra

Paula Casaleiro is a researcher at CES. She has a Ph.D. in Sociology of Law and an M.A. in Sociology at the School of Economics of the University of Coimbra. Currently, she is part of the research project "QUALIS - Quality of Justice in Portugal! Impact of working conditions in the performance of judges and public prosecutors", coordinated by João Paulo Dias, and "FRANET (multidisciplinary research network)", coordinated by Conceição Gomes. She is also one of the coordinatores of the section "Sociology of Law and Justice" of the Portuguese Association of Sociology. 


27-01-2022 — Updated on 01-06-2022

How to Cite

Casaleiro, P. (2022) “The medicalization of family judicial conflicts: A path towards normalization”, Oñati Socio-Legal Series, 12(3), pp. 424–442. Available at: (Accessed: 26 February 2024).