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April 29, 2004 • Volume 12 Number 16

Sanford Katz: "A study of family law in America shows that for years informal and de facto relationships have been recognized legally depending upon the context in which they are raised. For the past quarter of a century, family law has reflected the social realities and if the past is any prologue to the future, we can expect some major changes during this new century."

Family Law, Then and Now

New book by Law School faculty member bridges the theory-practice gap

The shifting, and increasingly complex, nature of legal relationships between spouses, as well as parents and children, is the subject of a groundbreaking new book by Darald and Juliet Libby Professor of Law Sanford Katz.

In Family Law in America, Katz describes how the United States legal system has come to reflect, and sometimes help effect, changes in traditional family models, especially during the late 20th century.

"Family Law in America bridges the gap between practice and legal theory," Katz said. "It recognizes the changes that have occurred in the practice of family law in the last quarter of a century and the importance of lawyers in the decision-making process. In addition, it illustrates that although so many of the traditional family law models like marriage, divorce and adoption were thought to be rigidly defined, history proves otherwise.

"A study of family law in America shows that for years informal and de facto relationships have been recognized legally depending upon the context in which they are raised. For the past quarter of a century, family law has reflected the social realities and if the past is any prologue to the future, we can expect some major changes during this new century."

For many years, Katz explains, family law was viewed as a study of state regulation of relationships of husband and wife, and parent and child. Both of these relationships were clearly defined: In the case of husband and wife, it was through formal legal procedures or formal arrangements called "marriage." In the case of parent and child, it was either through biology or adoption. Equally defined were the stages by which these relationships were established, maintained, and terminated.

By the close of the 20th century, however, basic questions about who should be officially designated a family member, and by whom, were being raised both in the legislature and through litigation, says Katz. In addition, conventional models that had defined domestic relations such as marriage, divorce, and adoption were either being expanded to include contemporary patterns of living arrangements and the current reality, or new models were being constructed.

Katz touches on current, and controversial, topics such as same-sex marriage, domestic partnerships, relocation of a custodial parent after divorce and open adoption.

Family Law in America also describes state intervention into the parent and child relationship in child abuse and neglect cases and illustrates how this is reflected in the re-examination of the privacy of the family unit. It concludes with a discussion of adoption of children and the impact of new forms of assisted reproductive techniques on that institution.

Katz has contributed his expertise on family law beyond the classroom, publishing numerous books and articles, helping draft model child welfare legislation for the federal government and serving in such prominent positions as chairman of the Family Law Section of the American Bar Association, president of the International Society of Family Law and editor-in-chief of the Family Law Quarterly. He also was named to the Scientific Committee of the International Society of Family Law World conference in 2005.

-Law School Communications Manager Nathaniel Kenyon

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