Alone Together: Law and the Meanings of Marriage

Alone Together: Law and the Meanings of Marriage

Alone Together: Law and the Meanings of Marriage

Alone Together: Law and the Meanings of Marriage


Contemporary marriage involves complex notions of both connection and freedom. On the one hand, spouses are members of a shared community, while on the other they are discrete individuals with their own distinct interests. Alone Together explores the ways in which law seeks to accommodate tensions between commitment and freedom in marriage. Author Milton Regan suggests that only close attention to context can guide us in deciding what weight to assign to each dimension of spousal identity in a given setting. This interdisciplinary work has relevance to family law, family studies, feminist legal theory, and the debate between liberal and communitarian social theorists.


In Richard Ford's novel Independence Day, the protagonist muses about his ex-wife, Ann, and his current companion, Sally. "In marriage," he observes, "there's the gnashing, cold but also cozy fear that after a while there'll be no me left, only me chemically amalgamated with another[.]" By contrast, "the proposition with Sally is that there's just me. Forever. I alone would go on being responsible for everything that had me in it; no other; only me and my acts, her and hers, somehow together -- which of course is much more fearsome" (1995, p. 177).

Ford's narrator succinctly expresses both the vision that propels us toward marriage and the fear that sometimes awaits us when we arrive. We want to be partners in a relationship of shared meaning. We also, however, want to remain individuals with our own unique sense of identity. There may be less of a consensus on exactly what marriage means in the modern world, but this set of contending desires seems inescapable.

In this book, I suggest that appreciation of this tension can help inform our ideas about how law should deal with marriage. I will examine three issues in an effort to explore this theme in some depth: the use of economic concepts in legal analysis of marriage and divorce, the law governing the ability of one spouse to testify against another, and the rules governing financial rights and responsibilities at divorce. Each of these issues, I will argue, raises the question of the relative weight that we should give to spouses as individuals and as participants in a shared community.

As I will make clear, resolving these issues is not a matter of formulating a set of general principles and then applying them to particular cases. Rather, my analysis is meant to serve as an exercise in practical reasoning, which is sensitive to the many incommensurable values that we regard as relevant in the various contexts in which we think about marriage. It is for this reason that I confine myself to these three issues, rather than attempting to analyze a broad range of questions. Examination of them is meant to provide what scholars of practical reasoning call "exemplars." These offer guidance by illustrating practical reasoning in action rather than by pursuing the entailments of logical propositions.

The approach that I suggest will not speak to all aspects of marriage. That relationship has many dimensions, and therefore fruitfully can be seen from several different angles of vision. I do believe, however, that the framework I

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.