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Progress and Progression in Family Law

The University of Chicago Legal Forum, 2004

Emory Public Law Research Paper

25 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2012  

Martha Albertson Fineman

Emory University School of Law

Date Written: 2004


Family law is an area of law in which the whole world is being rewritten. Today’s families are increasingly fluid, detachable, and the relationships within them are more interchangeable. Increased instances of “family behavior” occur outside of formal legal family structures. Changes within the family in regards to authority and attitudes about roles also contribute to the vast changes.

The pressure on the system presented by theses shifts has not only given rise to accommodation. It has also spawned a backlash. In particular, many politicians have addressed the challenges raised by these changes with cynical appeals for resurrection of the traditional family. Beginning with an insistence that the marriage of their parents will cure many, if not most of the disadvantages children suffer, and pandering to a conservative and fundamentalist religiosity, politicians resort to the traditional family as a panacea.

This paper looks at the shifting landscape of the American family through multiple lenses: the redefinition of partner, the shifting responsibilities involved in caretaking, the evolving role of the state in marriage. If changes in family form reveal different sets of problems and unmet needs, thereby making caretaking and managing dependency more difficult, policymakers should ask what institutional and other adjustments are necessary in order to help these new forms of family meet their responsibilities. A policy that focuses primarily on extolling the benefits of marriage and designates non-conforming family units "deviant" does not address such questions.

Keywords: Family law, traditional family, family unit, marriage, single mother, formal equality, substantive equality, dependency, gender equality, feminism, divorce, poverty, moral authority

Suggested Citation

Fineman, Martha Albertson, Progress and Progression in Family Law (2004). The University of Chicago Legal Forum, 2004; Emory Public Law Research Paper. Available at SSRN:

Martha Albertson Fineman (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-712-2421 (Phone)

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