Bar News - November 18, 2011
Family Law: Inside the Castle: Law and the Family in 20th Century America By Joanna L. Grossman and Lawrence M. Friedman
By: Book Review by Heather E. Krans
Inside the Castle traces the development of family law in America through the enormous social changes of the 20th century and the first decade of 21st century. The overarching trend, as cited by the authors, has been the "decline of the traditional family." During this time period the concept of "family" has been greatly expanded and re-defined. Examples of this expansion include the increased acceptance of domestic partnerships, decreased stigma associated with illegitimate children, same sex relationships, surrogate motherhood, and the overall blurring of the line between the martial and non-marital family.
Written by two law professors (Hofstra and Stanford), Inside the Castle is thorough and scholarly, yet readable and engaging. It is divided into short, easily digestible chapters organized around the themes of marriage, the rise of sexual freedom, divorce, and elder law / children and the law.
At its essence, the book relates changes in societal norms to the changes in the law that followed. It also details policy shifts, such as the transfer of responsibility for individuals from their families to the government (e.g., Social Security, Medicare); and the tightening of laws related to children (e.g., mandatory school attendance), as contrasted with the loosening of laws related to adults (e.g., no-fault divorce).
From a practice perspective, I appreciated the book’s comprehensive approach – focusing not just on divorce, but also the laws surrounding marriage itself. Inside the Castle also covers estate law and elder law – areas not traditionally thought of as falling within the purview of "family law," but in which a working knowledge is necessary to truly understand divorce and marriage laws and their implications. My one disappointment in the book is that it makes no prediction for the development of family law in the future – which it describes as "the void."
I would recommend Inside the Castle to all New Hampshire family law practitioners. Reading this book made me realize that I tend to focus on divorce law, with only an occasional venture into the law of marriage itself. I had little sense of the development of family law from any time before I was admitted to practice in New Hampshire. I did not know, for example, that divorce was originally viewed as a "privilege" granted to the "innocent" spouse.
This book provides an invaluable historical context in which to view the laws of New Hampshire. This is especially true with regard to some of our laws that still exist, but are rarely utilized. These include annulment, and some of the more obscure fault grounds. I also have a greater understanding as to where New Hampshire stands in the national landscape with regard to family law.
Inside the Castle is both in-depth and far-reaching. On a personal level, it helped put laws with which I work every day into a new context. I now have a greater understanding of how and why family law has evolved, and how our existing laws fit together as a whole. If you are a family law practitioner, especially one who did not take a family law class in law school, read this book.
Heather E. Krans is an attorney at the Stein Law Firm in Concord. She focuses her practice on litigation, including family law. She can be reached at email@example.com.