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Family Laws of 1936


In 1936, the Soviet state enacted several laws that sharply departed from previous legislation. The Soviet Union had been the first country in the world to legalize abortion in 1920, offering women free abortion services in certified hospitals. In 1936, however, the Central Executive Committee outlawed abortion. Anyone who performed the operation was liable to a minimum of two years in prison, and a woman who received an abortion was subject to high fines after the first offense. The new law offered monetary incentives for childbearing, providing stipends for new mothers, progressive bonuses for women with many children, and longer maternity leave for white-collar workers. The criminalization of abortion reflected growing anxiety among health workers, managers, and state officials over the rising number of abortions, the falling birth rate, the shortage of labor, and the possibility of war.

The law also made divorce more difficult and stiffened criminal penalties for men who refused to pay alimony or child support. It required both spouses to appear to register a divorce and increased costs for the first divorce to fifty rubles, 150 rubles for the second, and three hundred rubles for the third. It set minimum levels for child support at onethird of a defendant's salary for one child, fifty percent for two children, and sixty percent for three or more, increasing the penalty for nonpayment to two years in prison.

The law was part of a longer and larger public campaign to promote "family responsibility" and to reverse almost two decades of revolutionary juridical thinking. In April 1935, the Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom) granted the courts sweeping new powers to try and sentence children aged twelve and older as adults; this resulted in mass arrests and imprisonment of teenagers, mostly for petty theft. In May 1935 the local Commissions on the Affairs of Minors were abolished, and responsibility for all juvenile crime was shifted to the courts. Punishment replaced an earlier commitment to pedagogical correction. The 1936 laws also marked a turn in attitudes toward law and family. Jurists condemned as "legal nihilism" earlier notions that the law and the family would "wither away." Many legal theorists of the 1920s, including Yevgeny Pashukanis and Nikolai Krylenko, were arrested and shot.

See also: family code of 1926; family code on marriage, the family, and guardianship; family edict of 1944


Goldman, Wendy. (1991). "Women, Abortion, and the State, 19171936." In Russia's Women: Accommodation, Resistance, Transformation, eds. Barbara Clements, Barbara Engel, Christine Worobec. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Goldman, Wendy. (1993). Women, the State, and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 19171936. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sharlet, Robert. (1984). "Pashukanis and the Withering-Away of Law in the USSR." In Cultural Revolution in Russia, 192831, ed. Sheila Fitzpatrick. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Wendy Goldman

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