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Belgian law to be updated with gender-neutral language

Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

Belgium’s civil code, which dates back to the Napoleonic era, is getting a modern update to switch to more gender-neutral language.

Specifically, the Belgian Civil Code refers to the idea of a “good house father” or a “family man,” which is a legal principle used to judge whether someone made a mistake by comparing what they did with the expected behaviour of a rational and responsible person.

This language will be replaced by the more gender-neutral “prudent and reasonable person.”

The idea behind the “prudent and reasonable person” concept is to demonstrate best efforts at fulfilling contracts within reason or to lessen punishments for people who have violated the civil code but are otherwise upstanding citizens, according to De Standaard.

The origin of “good father” dates back to its Latin roots with “pater familias,” and references a time when fathers were the undisputed head of their families and were seen as a touchstone of responsible behaviour.

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The “good father” language was already removed from French law, on which Belgian law is largely based, but remained a part of the Dutch language civil code.

The change is part of an ongoing effort to strip Belgian law of its patriarchal character and comes amid other reform work.

A similarly motivated change occurred in 2014 when it was declared that a child no longer automatically receives the surname of the father.

“Whether one speaks of a good family man or a prudent and reasonable person will not change anything in terms of content,” professor Bernard Dubuisson (UCLouvain) told Le Soir. “It is a symbolic issue, but the reform works were the chance to correct it.”

The Brussels Times