Fall 2000
Legal Studies 397D -
Family Law

Wednesday 2:30 - 5:00
Herter 205

Professor Janet Rifkin
Legal Studies Department
219 Hampshire House



In this course, we will examine how conceptions and experiences of the family shape and are shaped by the legal system. We will address the way laws reinforce certain conceptions of the family even as they change families. One of our primary inquiries will be to examine whether families are helped or hurt by legal initiatives on their behalf, because virtually every important family law discussion engages, at some point, in a contradiction between using law to improve the way people live and a conviction that individuals or families should decide what is best in this most intimate area of human lives. It is this contradiction that will be at the heart of our investigations during this semester.

The materials will be organized around a number of themes. More specifically, the readings and class discussions will focus on the following cluster of questions, many of which are interrelated:

  1. What is a family? Are they natural preserves where social and legal rules follow biology and passion or social institutions created and regulated by government to serve specific public purposes? what constellation of people, connected through what kinds of relationships can and should count as a family?
  2. What is the history and how was the family transformed in the twentieth century?
  3. Should parenthood be deregulated and governed by the market? Should one's marital status have anything to do with becoming a parent or enjoying parental prerogatives?
  4. What is the role of the state in cases of family violence and neglect? What are the risks and benefits?
  5. Is it possible to articulate a legal standard to signal what is appropriate or justifiable state involvement in families? What tools can the law employ deploy to protect individuals from abuse by both families and the state?
  6. What theories, or set of themes, can help evaluate ambiguous facts in a particular case that comes to court? What theory or set of themes can help evaluate the court's own response to these cases?
  7. What legal ground rules or presumptions should determine who decides disputed issues of medical treatment?
  8. What is the role of law in complex emotional processes such as family breakup and reorganization?
  9. What stance should the law take in issues of child custody, visitation and support? Should there be a gender neutral rule of "primary parent" or a presumption of joint custody?
  10. Who has access to lawyers, courts, law? who is structurally marginalized and privileged?
  11. What alternatives exist, or can be imagined, to court, law, lawyers? pros and cons of mediation and pro-se processes

Required Reading:

Family Matters: Readings on Family Lives and the Law, Martha Minow, The New Press-New York.
Tender Mercies: Keith N. Richards, CWLA Press

Written Assignments and Evaluation:

You will be required to write a short, 1 page paper to be turned in before each class. These weekly papers will count as 1/3 of your grade. In addition, there will be a midterm and final worth 2/3 of your grade. The details of these will be clarified later on. Class participation is important. I am hoping that we will engage in interesting and lively discussions and I expect each of you to contribute. Participation, or the lack thereof, will serve to raise or lower your grade.


9/6- Introduction, What is a Family-

9/13- CLASS CANCELLED, Assignment: Paper 1

What is a Family? Family in the past and present: Hartog handout, Two Families Handout, Minow, pp. xiii-44, Paper 1 due in class- Paper 2 assigned

9/27 What constitutes parenthood? Minow, 45-141, Paper 2 due in class, Paper 3 assigned

10/4-Guest Speaker, readings TBA, Paper 3 due in class, Paper 4 assigned

10/11 - no class, Monday schedule

10/18 - Marriage, Minow, pp 141-185, handouts tba, Paper 4 due in class, Paper 5 assigned (Midterm)

10/25 - Midterm

11/1 - Read Tender Mercies, Paper 5 due in class, Paper 6 assigned

11/8 - Update: NO CLASS TODAY
Role of the State-Tender Mercies (entire book), Paper 6 due in class, Paper 7 assigned

There is an article on the New York Times website (http://www.nytimes.com/) I would like you to look at. It has bearing on Loving vs. Virginia. The New York Times is available online for free, but you must register. When you are able to access the site, search for the title ("Removing a Relic of the Old South") or the author (Somini Sengupta). I have the url for the article but it is only available if you have registered.

11/15 - Family Matters, pp. 187-282, Paper 6 due in class, Paper 7 assigned

11/22 - No class-Thanksgiving

11/29 - Paper 7 due in class ("Pick one article in the assigned readings on pp. 307-365 and write a 2 page paper explaining, very carefully, why you disagree with it."), Final Assignment given out

12/6 - Family Mediation, pp. 381-397 in Minow. Assignment 8 is "Do a web search on family mediation. Write up a 1 page summary of your findings including all relevant urls." If you chose Option 1 of final assignment, copies of article must given to me in time to be copied and distributed in this class, presentation due 12/13.

These are the urls you should read:

Matt: http://www.matthewharrison.com/flt.html
(ready on Friday, 12/8)

Kate: http://create.familyeducation.com/article/1,1120,1-18850-1,00.html

Helen: http://www.amnestyusa.org/rightsforall/women/overview.html

12/7 - Legal Studies talk, Goessman 64 at 7 p.m.

Erotic Peepzones and Internet Porn Laws: A presentation by Katrien Jacobs

Professor Jacobs of Emerson College will discuss how the global circulation of digital media art challengs the definitions of space, pornography and censorship legislation. Although Japan has strict cultural codes, it has produced some of the most explicit erotic film and video, in response to this repression. Professor Jacobs will look at Japanese erotic anime "hentai" as well as the work of Shu Lea Cheang. Clips will be shown

12/13 - In class presentations, Assignment 8 (see 12/6) due in class

Final, Option 1 requires reading to be copied for class 12/6. Option 2 due in my office by 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 20


updated December 6, 2000
by Amity Lee-Bradley