The Family Way

"When family pride ceases to act, individual selfishness comes into play."

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." I've always thought that Tolstoy underestimated the variety of happy families, but his dictum definitely holds true from at least one point of view, that of family law. While happy families present smooth, blank faces to the civil law (all decisions might as well reflect harmonious bliss as far as the law is concerned), an unhappy family easily becomes a strikingly particularized thicket of rights, grievances, stipulations, restrictions, economic calculations, and retribution. Suddenly things get very colorful indeed.

In The Transformation of Family Law Mary Ann Glendon, a professor at Harvard Law School, seeks to discern, with special attention to recent plot developments in the convoluted narrative, the sort of "stories" told about families and human relationships by our laws. Since being hired by Harvard and winning the 1988 Series Book Award for Abortion and Divorce in Western Law, Glendon seems to have become something of a hot commodity on the family law publishing circuit. The general thesis of this new book, a revision of an earlier book entitled Law and Family, published in 1977, is that marriage is losing its privileged status in Western society....

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