The puzzle of intra-familial commodification

Ram Rivlin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Trading babies or brides for money is widely regarded as morally wrong and sometimes even legally prohibited. Yet here is a puzzle: it seems that parallel exchanges are taking place within the family unit, in the context of custody or reconciliation agreements, both of which might sometimes involve the interweaving of parental or spousal relations with financial exchange. Such cases face much less resentment and criticism, not to mention legal regulation. What can explain this gap in normative treatment? This is the 'puzzle of intra-familial commodification.' The article introduces the puzzle, maps it, and evaluates the ways in which it might be resolved. First, it explores the possibility that we might revise our judgment regarding either the permissibility of intra-familial commodification or the wrongfulness of the extrafamilial case. Second, it examines why despite the fundamental symmetry between the cases a disparate final judgment might nevertheless be called for. Finally, it explores the option of vindicating the fundamental normative asymmetry. Thinking through the puzzle, the article offers new insights on both the centrality of the market- pricing mechanism for the general problem of commodification and the way familial ties might save intimacy from the corruption of monetary exchange.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)68-95
Number of pages28
JournalUniversity of Toronto Law Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • Commodification
  • Custody agreements
  • Divorce negotiation
  • Family law


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