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Attorneys Vic Hill and Brad MacDonald

Law Prof. Says Family Law Notions, Rules Will Change in Future

At first blush, the interplay in a debate between what is called an “integrated model of parenthood” and a “diversity approach” to parenthood might not seem to have much immediate relevance to important family law topics and considerations. A Washington University law professor in St. Louis thinks otherwise, though, and says that the outcome is vital for how parentage rules and other family law matters play out legally across the United States in the future.

In fact, says Susan Appleton, the law professor and author of a new book called “What is Parenthood?,” how parenthood is defined – and will be defined in the future owing to its current evolvement – will have central importance across the full spectrum of topics customarily involved in a divorce, from child support and child custody to alimony, property division and more.

Appleton’s thesis in a nutshell is this: The integrated model – what has customarily driven family law in America – is growing outmoded and needs changing. It “systematically and explicitly classifies by gender” the family law regime, seeing what Appleton says is “a gendered combination missing or disrupted when a child has two legal parents who are both women or both men, when a child has only one legal parent, or in the occasional case in which courts have recognized three legal parents for a given child.”

The diversity model, conversely, rejects sex-based classifications and traditional gender roles, and “does not reinforce existing gender scripts and inequities.”

Appleton thinks that is far better and more relevant for contemporary American life and society, which, after all, is changing substantially in material ways. She finds what she calls the “prevailing legal regime” to be “fraught with value judgments.” She also says that it marginalizes nontraditional families, pointing to the marriage laws that exclude same-sex marriage in most states.

Parentage rules are critically important, says Appleton, because of the authority that they invest in persons who the law calls parents and in the contrasting lack of legal status and protections given to persons legally classified as non-parents.

Over time, Appleton says, legal status will come to depend more on empirical findings and less on gender.

Related Resource: “Gender has no place in the legal definition of parenthood, says family law expert” November 4, 2010