About the Book

What Family Lawyers Know:

Many young, educated women drop out of the work force when they have children, at great financial peril when divorce looms. Unlike their economically self-sufficient sisters, who have more choices about whether to stay in a marriage or how to make lifestyle adjustments if they don’t, women who are completely economically dependent on their husbands are unable to control their and their children’s future.

Whether it’s about personal finances, sexual indiscretions, mental health, or substance abuse problems, family lawyers know more about what goes on behind closed doors than most of us. Why? Because to bolster their cases, people come into family lawyers’ offices and within ten minutes have to reveal secrets that they would never tell their closest friends or family members.

We often talk about marriage equality in this country, but we also need divorce equality. Part of the benefit of marriage should be the legal protection afforded by divorce laws, based on our societal consensus that marriage is an economic partnership and when it ends, what’s been accumulated together should be fairly divided. If you are gay and have the misfortune to live in a state where you can’t marry, or where your out-of-state marriage isn’t recognized, you don’t qualify for these basic protections.

Custody cases are decided by judges who are charged with determining what’s in a child’s best interest, but that is often subjective. Parenting practices change and judges are likely to be from a different generation than the litigants appearing before them, yet inevitably they are informed by their own backgrounds. So where’s the line—and when do judges cross it—between drawing on the wisdom of life experience and inappropriately imposing their own ideas of cultural norms?

Adoption irrevocably alters legal identity. When a child is adopted, a new birth certificate is issued listing the names of the adoptive parents. The birth parents’ existence is effectively wiped out. To the adoptee, this can feel like an obliteration of identity. Why does the law condone and perpetuate such a fiction? What purpose does it serve?

Same-sex couples are consciously creating new family structures and expanding our definition of family. For lesbians this includes the use of a known sperm donor, sometimes a man who is related to the non-biological mother. This way, the child will be genetically connected to both moms. The intent behind using a known donor is often to have that man play a role in the child’s life, the details of which might be set out in a contract all three parties negotiate prior to the insemination.

Family lawyers represent victims of domestic violence and are sometimes even at risk themselves. How do lawyers make an assessment of each situation and how does it inform the advice the lawyer gives? If a client is murdered by her abuser, how does that affect her lawyer, personally and professionally?

The culture of divorce is shifting in favor of “the good divorce.” Divorced parents are engaging in the increasingly common practice of “bird nesting,” a cooperative rotation in and out of the marital home while the children stay put. Many couples are rejecting litigation in favor of nonadversarial ways of ending a marriage, like collaborative divorce or mediation or just plain DIY—sitting down at the kitchen table and figuring it out themselves. There’s even the divorce ceremony, a ritual to mark the end of a marriage with appropriate solemnity and respect, popular in Japan and slowly catching on in the U.S. With 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce, the view that the split can reconfigure a family instead of breaking it apart is very hopeful.