In 1944, as the Second World War was coming to an end, the Communist Party and state leadership in the Soviet Union released a legal document on marriage and family matters.1 On a few important points the decree drastically altered previous legislation. The 1944 decree abolished the rights of unmarried mothers to have the paternity of their children established by a court in order to make the father pay maintenance, thereby withdrawing the right for children to know the name of their father. It also abolished the right for married couples to divorce without impediments. In many ways the decree ran contrary to legal norms that both the Party and the state had been propagating for decades as distinctive qualities of Soviet socialist society. This chapter focuses on the Khrushchev era, but in order to identify chan-

ges in attitude over a longer period it examines the evolution of legal reform in the late Stalin period and ends in the early Brezhnev period. It begins with a short overview of the basic principles and norms on which Soviet family legislation was based up to 1944.2 Shortly after the October Revolution, the new Bolshevik government issued marriage and family laws that in many respects broke with the legislative norms of Tsarist Russia. First, the prerogative of the Orthodox Church to regulate family matters was abolished. New rules stated that only marriages registered at national registration offices, installed by the Soviet government and civic in character, would be legally valid. Second, the legal norm of making the man the head of family, with the exclusive right to ultimate decision-making on matters regarding the upbringing of children or the family economy, was abolished. Thus, the aim was to break the hold of the church over the family and the hold of the husband over the wife. Third, the right to free divorce was stated in the new law. No specific

reason for seeking a divorce was needed; if both spouses agreed, the procedure would be quick. The only action the spouses were obliged to take was to announce their intention to divorce at the nearest national registration office. Fourth, legislation guaranteed the equal status of children born within and outside of marriage. In comparison to the rest of Europe, with some exceptions, this can be regarded as an advanced feature of early Soviet legislation.3