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Brazil, Civil Code

Brazil, Civil Code

Following four unsuccessful attempts during the nineteenth century to codify Brazilian civil law, the Brazilian Civil Code (Codigo Civil Brasileiro), drafted by Clóvis Bevilaqua, was approved by Congress (Law 3,071 of January 1, 1916) and took effect on January 1, 1917. Corrections ordered by Law 3,725 of January 15, 1919 were promulgated on July 13, 1919. The Civil Code superseded the Ordinações Filipinas, compiled in Portugal in 1603, and as of 2007 remains in effect, although it has been altered significantly by subsequent laws.

Widely praised at the time for its scientific and practical nature, the Civil Code is divided into two parts. The general part deals with persons, property, and legal acts; the special part treats the rights of family, rights of things, laws of obligations, and rights of succession. The Civil Code is a conservative document that reinforces capitalist and patriarchal social relations. Especially concerned with relations within the family, it declares the husband the legal head of household and leaves married women legally incapacitated. A wife can assume patria poder only in the case of the legal absence of her husband. The husband has the right to administer the wife's property, and she has to secure his authorization to pursue a profession as well as to accept or relinquish an inheritance. The Civil Code originally permitted annulment of marriage (under restrictive circumstances) and legal separation (desquite) only; divorce was legalized in 1977 (Law 6,515 of 26 December 1977), but only once in any person's lifetime.

Proposals to update Brazil's Civil Code commenced in the mid-1970s, and in January 2003 the country's new Civil Code (Law 10.406/2002) went into effect. In part, the reform aimed to consolidate related laws and decrees and make the code conform to the Constitution of 1988. Yet in replacing paternal power with family power, it took new steps in recognizing women's equality. Moreover, the new Civil Code eased divorce proceedings and eliminated distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate children. The new code also included changes affecting business and contract law.

See alsoMarriage and Divorce; Ordenações do Reino.


A useful early edition of the Civil Code, which includes a historical and descriptive introduction and an index, is Código civil brasileira, edited by Paulo de Lacerda (1916). A later compilation of modifications of the Civil Code is Código civil e legislação complementar, edited by Geraldo Magela Alves (1989). An older English translation is The Civil Code of Brazil, translated by Joseph Wheless (St. Louis, Thomas Law Book Company, 1920).

Additional Bibliography

Barretto Ferreira da Silva, Ricardo, ed. Doing Business in Brazil. Chicago: Section of International Law and Practice, American Bar Association, 2002.

Caulfield, Sueann. In Defense of Honor: Sexual Morality, Modernity, and Nation in Early-Twentieth-Century Brazil. Durham, DC: Duke University Press, 2000.

Htun, Mala. Sex and the State: Abortion, Divorce, and the Family under Latin American Dictatorships and Democracies. Cambridge, U.K.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

                                          Susan K. Besse

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