Family Law

  • June 25, 2014
    Failure to Flourish: How Law Undermines Family Relationships
    Clare Huntington

    by Clare Huntington, Professor of Law, Fordham University School of Law

    Inequality is the issue of the decade. Both income and wealth are concentrated at the top, and social mobility in the United States, although varied in its particulars, is lower than in most developed countries.

    One way to increase social mobility is to increase human capital, but, as I show in Failure to Flourish: How Law Undermines Family Relationships (Oxford University Press 2014), this can happen only if we strengthen families. Education is a key component of human capital, but what happens at home in the first few years of life—long before a child starts Head Start or pre-kindergarten—can set a child on a trajectory that is difficult to alter in later years.

    Family law is part of the problem. Too often, instead of helping strengthen families, our legal system undercuts family relationships, making it harder for parents to provide children with the relationships necessary for healthy child development.

    We can think of family law in concentric circles. At the center are rules about creating and ending relationships, including laws about marriage, divorce, adoption, and parentage. In the next ring are laws governing family behavior, such as child abuse and domestic violence laws. In an outer ring are legal structures and policies that we tend not to think of as family law but which deeply affect families nonetheless. These include tax policy, criminal justice, zoning, food stamp regulations, and laws governing workplace discrimination, among others.

  • June 5, 2014
    Family Law Reimagined (Harvard University Press 2014)
    Jill Elaine Hasday

    by Jill Elaine Hasday, Distinguished McKnight University Professor and Centennial Professor of Law, University of Minnesota Law School

    One of the law’s most important and far-reaching roles is to govern family life and family members. Family law decides who counts as kin, how family relationships are created and dissolved, and what legal rights and responsibilities come with marriage, parenthood, sibling ties, and other family bonds. Family law touches some of the most important aspects of our lives, including our most intimate relationships, our children, and our wealth. It structures both the details of daily life and the overarching features of society. Yet while there are wonderful scholars and lawyers working in family law, the field continues to attract much less critical attention than it deserves.

    I wrote Family Law Reimagined (Harvard University Press 2014) to direct more scrutiny toward a field that is so significant and ubiquitous, yet remains relatively understudied. The book seeks to better understand family law by exploring how legal decisionmakers think about the subject.

    The book focuses on the dominant stories that courts and legislatures use to explain family law and its governing principles. To a remarkable extent, these stories misdescribe the reality of family law, misdirect attention away from the actual problems that family law confronts, and misshape the policies that legal authorities pursue. In a nutshell, my book argues that much of the “common sense” that judges and legislators expound about family law actually makes little sense.

  • October 13, 2011
    Inside the Castle
    Law and the Family in 20th Century America
    Joanna L. Grossman and Lawrence M. Friedman

    By Joanna L. Grossman, a law professor at Hofstra University, and Lawrence M. Friedman, a law professor at Stanford University and professor by courtesy in the school’s departments of history and political science.

    Family law does not always make the headlines. Still, hardly anything is as important to people in our society as family life; we all have families, and we all need families. And family law is the legal framework that governs (or tries to govern) family life.

    Public attention to family law tends to center on a few controversial flashpoints. Same-sex marriage has been a hot subject for state legislatures and Congress, political candidates at every level, lawyers and judges in courtrooms, at the polls, and in every form of media imaginable.  But at the same time, hugely important developments in the American family and the law that governs them have gone largely unnoticed. 

    Inside the Castle: Law and the Family in 20th Century America deals with the development of family law in the United States in the 20th century. But it is not a history of legal doctrine. It is a book about the ways in which family law has reacted to changes in the larger society. 

    The 20th century was a century of tumultuous change in society; and what was happening in the big world transformed family life and therefore family law in fundamental ways.

  • March 30, 2010

    Prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys are set to clash with family law experts and domestic violence (DV) survivors tomorrow at the U.S. Supreme Court. In Robertson v. U.S. ex rel. Watson, the issue before the Court is who should be the named enforcer of restraining orders, and thus, who is eligible to bring criminal contempt against one violating that order.

    The National Law Journal characterizes the case as "a little-noticed U.S. Supreme Court case that [advocates for DV survivors] say could make it much harder for battered women and men to enforce restraining orders against their abusers." Family law experts who filed an amicus brief in the case argue that DV survivors should have the right to enforce restraining orders in the District of Columbia and at least 14 states permitting private prosecution. They say that, otherwise, restraining order enforcement delayed by a prosecutor's busy schedule could prove perilous for those continuing to face aggression from their abusers.

    SCOTUSblog recited the facts as follows:

    The case involves a District of Columbia man, John Robertson, who was convicted of contempt of a local court created by Congress after a prosecution by his estranged girlfriend, Wykenna Watson, who had obtained a protection order against him.