Inside the Castle: Law and the Family in 20th Century America

Inside the Castle: Law and the Family in 20th Century America

Inside the Castle: Law and the Family in 20th Century America

Inside the Castle: Law and the Family in 20th Century America

Synopsis


Inside the Castle is a comprehensive social history of twentieth-century family law in the United States. Joanna Grossman and Lawrence Friedman show how vast, oceanic changes in society have reshaped and reconstituted the American family. Women and children have gained rights and powers, and novel forms of family life have emerged. The family has more or less dissolved into a collection of independent individuals with their own wants, desires, and goals. Modern family law, as always, reflects the brute social and cultural facts of family life.


The story of family law in the twentieth century is complex. This was the century that said goodbye to common-law marriage and breach-of-promise lawsuits. This was the century, too, of the sexual revolution and women's liberation, of gay rights and cohabitation. Marriage lost its powerful monopoly over legitimate sexual behavior. Couples who lived together without marriage now had certain rights. Gay marriage became legal in a handful of jurisdictions. By the end of the century, no state still prohibited same-sex behavior. Children in many states could legally have two mothers or two fathers. No-fault divorce became cheap and easy. And illegitimacy lost most of its social and legal stigma. These changes were not smooth or linear--all met with resistance and provoked a certain amount of backlash. Families took many forms, some of them new and different, and though buffeted by the winds of change, the family persisted as a central institution in society. Inside the Castle tells the story of that institution, exploring the ways in which law tried to penetrate and control this most mysterious realm of personal life.

Excerpt

Everybody, in every society, is born into a family. Even a newborn baby, unwanted, abandoned as soon as it is born, perhaps wrapped in a filthy rag and left on a doorstep, will eventually wind up in somebody’s family. A child without a family is likely to die. But there are families and there are families. They come in all shapes and sizes. There are loving families, unloving families, crazy families, saintly families, families made up of nothing but men or nothing but women, nuclear families and extended families, small families and large families. Even a person who lives alone has a family—somewhere; and can be defined as a family of one; or a fragment of a family. Human beings, like wolves or termites, are social animals, family animals. The family is the fundamental unit of society. Families are the molecules that together make up that huge compound we call a community, or a society. In this society, in this day and age, families still matter enormously—even though modern life has, in many ways, weakened the family and instead has placed enormous emphasis on the individual, the isolated, naked self. This emphasis is one of the themes of this book. This is because individualism has had such an overwhelming impact on families and family life. Nonetheless, the family remains a vital social institution. What we will try to show is how individuals and families interact, how the equations of family life shift and contort, and the role that law plays in these complex equations of family life.

Families are also social institutions. Family structure and family life are different from place to place, time to time, and culture to culture. In some societies, one man can have a flock of wives; in a few rare societies, a woman can have a flock of husbands. There are societies where the core of the family is a mother’s brother, or a mother-in-law; where women have a lot to say or very little to say about marriage, sex, children, and family power; there are societies where blood relationship counts, no matter how far-fetched, where distant cousins have significance and assert claims on people’s lives; while in other societies (like ours), even brothers and sisters often have nothing to do with each other once they leave the nest. The ways in which law and . . .

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