Monday, February 24, 2014
The University of Michigan Press has just published Intimate Associations: The Law and Culture of American Families by J. Herbie DiFonzo and Ruth C. Stern. The book argues that all family forms should be respected and accorded legal equality. But at the same time, the social science evidence is clear that marriage is better than cohabitation for couples, for their children, and for society as a whole. The rise in divorce, cohabitation, single parenthood, and same-sex partnerships, along with an increase in surrogacy, adoption, and assisted reproductive technologies, have led to many and diverse configurations of families, or "intimate associations." The fluidity of modern families may give adults more personal choices, but it comes at the price of economic stability and social well-being. Drawing on a wealth of social science data, the book shows that, by a number of measures, children of married parents fare better than children in a household formed by cohabiting adults. This is not to condemn nontraditional families but rather to point out that society and, particularly, the law do not yet adequately provide for the needs of such families. The text applauds the ways in which courts and legislatures are beginning to replace rigid concepts of marriage and parenthood with the more flexible concept of “functional” family roles. Intimate Associations concludes with a call for the legal system to adapt to the continually changing reality of family life.