Mothers as Suckers: Pity, Partnership, and Divorce Discourse

22 Pages Posted: 4 Oct 2005

See all articles by Cynthia Lee Starnes

Cynthia Lee Starnes

Michigan State University College of Law


Aiming to protect divorcing mothers from the market costs of caretaking, the American Law Institute has proposed a new alimony model based on loss sharing. Good intentions notwithstanding, the Institute's rationale and vocabulary perpetuate a dispiriting view of mothers as suckers, economically incapacitated by their unpaid family labor. A far better reform discourse lies in the gender-neutral language and egalitarian principles of partnership. In this Article, Professor Starnes offers an enriched partnership model that complements the marital partnership model she earlier proposed. This new model provides a compelling rationale for income sharing during the minority of marital children, even as it casts mothers as full stakeholders in marriage, equal rather than subservient, empowered rather than incapacitated, respected rather than pitied.

Suggested Citation

Starnes, Cynthia Lee, Mothers as Suckers: Pity, Partnership, and Divorce Discourse. Iowa Law Review, Vol. 90, pp. 1513-52, April 2005, MSU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 03-13 , Available at SSRN:

Cynthia Lee Starnes (Contact Author)

Michigan State University College of Law ( email )

318 Law College Building
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
United States
517-432-6899 (Phone)

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