In the second half of the twentieth century small family businesses were still widespread in France. An important reason for this resilience was the share of unpaid work performed by kin in producing for the market. The unpaid work of family members in a range of craft and commercial family businesses – particularly by spouses, sons, and daughters – contributed to both the survival of the businesses and the well-being of the families, as is testified to in numerous sources, albeit statistically undocumented. Although social rights in France are considered to be some of the most advanced in Europe, the French Parliament was extremely slow to define the legal status of these family workers. It was not until 1982 that a law was finally enacted to bestow occupational status on collaborating spouses and to define a procedure optionally to register this unpaid work and to secure social security benefits for those carrying it out. This article focuses on the process that led to a new definition of the demarcation between the marital duty to assist, and work that exceeds this moral and legal obligation, thus creating a legal right to be compensated. Two empirical perspectives, involving an analysis of the reasons behind the shifting position of trade associations on this issue, and an assessment of the influence of long-standing gendered institutions, such as marital authority, on the formal and informal rules regulating family business are used to illustrate this slow and tortuous process of acquiring occupational rights for family workers.