Legal Stories, Change, and Incentives – Reinforcing the Law of the Father

24 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2012

Date Written: 1992


This article addresses the problems for women and children latent in recent suggestions to use the law to create incentives for men to use birth control. It examines these problems in the context of exploring the ways in which various narratives about the family are generated and used as society confronts changes in intimate behavior. The search for incentives is undertaken as part of a contemporary reexamination of what constitutes responsible male sexuality and fatherhood.

The story of responsible reproduction and the role of incentives has significant social consequences that are perhaps even more important than the potential for individual harm. The focus on paternity proceedings designed to tie men to single mothers and their children financially is a moral to the story, which has significant ideological implications. It obscures the magnitude and dimensions of the economic deprivations that make it difficult for women who make decisions to reproduce or to raise their children. The stories we are telling our families, whether traditional or reconfigured, continue to justify sanctions and punitive reforms that create disadvantages for women and children.

Keywords: family, paternity, narrative, single parenthood, feminism, children’s rights, nuclear family, traditional family

Suggested Citation

Fineman, Martha Albertson, Legal Stories, Change, and Incentives – Reinforcing the Law of the Father (1992). New York Law School Law Review, Vol. 37, 1992; Emory Public Law Research Paper, Forthcoming. 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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