Unofficial Family Law

33 Pages Posted: 16 Apr 2009 Last revised: 29 Mar 2010

See all articles by Ann Laquer Estin

Ann Laquer Estin

University of Iowa - College of Law

Date Written: March 1, 2010


This Essay explores a type of legal pluralism found in secular societies, including the United States, in which minority groups adhere to unofficial religious law norms within a larger framework of state family law. Official and unofficial law are sometimes closely interwoven, as with the formalization of marriage, and sometimes stand directly in opposition, as with laws prohibiting the practice of polygamy. In an intermediate position, these societies have seen a complex interaction between secular and religious law in the context of marriage dissolution. The different opportunities presented by each legal system may generate significant strategic behavior by individuals, and these risks have prompted careful collaboration between religious and secular authorities in a number of jurisdictions. In this collaboration, the secular state helps religious communities to define a space and an identity, and simultaneously seeks to establish the basic guarantees of citizenship within the larger society for all group members.

Keywords: legal pluralism, multiculturalism, family law, religious law, marriage, divorce

JEL Classification: K39

Suggested Citation

Estin, Ann Laquer, Unofficial Family Law (March 1, 2010). Iowa Law Review, Vol. 94, No. 2, 2009, U Iowa Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-15, Available at SSRN:

Ann Laquer Estin (Contact Author)

University of Iowa - College of Law ( email )

Boyd Law Building
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States
319-335-6850 (Phone)
319-335-9098 (Fax)

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