What the Heck is a Family, Anyway? Part II

In Part I, we talked about a few of the legal (and legalistic) definitions of ‘family’ that some corporations and states have used in the past, and why they aren’t adequate to the task of defining a family. Now it’s time to talk about the stranger reasons why defining ‘family’ is even less possible than it seems.

Things Get (Less) WEIRD
Needless to say, at the absolute minimum the definitions of family from part I are all vastly W.E.I.R.D. — that is to say, centered around a society that is Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. Definitions of family in other cultures vary so enormously as to completely break the American legal system with their strangeness.

As less strange examples, consider the facts that:

  • In many parts of Spain, Japan, and Italy it’s not at all strange to have the oldest generation, two or more of second generation (each with their own spouse), and several members of the third generation (commingling children of the second generation) all under one roof.
  • In the Chinese family structure, the wife’s relatives (excluding children of the husband, naturally) are considered ‘outsiders’ to the family even after decades of marriage, but the husband’s relatives are family from day one.
  • In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, men marry as many wives as they can afford, and those wives are expected to raise children and work to support those children, while the husband’s income remains his own.

This doesn’t even begin to cover some of the rarer practices in the world, which include cultures in which a group of brothers would marry a single wife (or vice versa, but never in the same culture!), or where brothers (by blood or law) may elect to exchange wives with or without the wives’ getting any say in the matter, or in one particularly exotic (and archaic) case in the South Pacific, where a husband’s brothers and his wife’s sisters would all move in together and start a big ol’ family with lots of activity of the kind that would undoubtedly stun even a quite liberal modern American.

But who are we to say that a pile of brothers and sisters living together and having (presumably several-to-dozens of) children of unknowable lineage shouldn’t count as a family?

But Wait, There’s More!
And all that still doesn’t begin to get into the complexities that arise when you start taking adoption, legal guardianship, cohabitation, and emancipation into account. All of the legal maneuvers you can make that change the composition of a family should obviously be taken into account when you try to formulate a definition of family, shouldn’t they?

But Wait, There’s EVEN MORE!
…And even all that isn’t enough, because even with everything discussed so far, there’s still insane cases like Hermesmann v. Seyer, in which a 17 year old female committed statutory rape on a 13 year old boy she was babysitting, got pregnant, bore the child, and then sued the boy for child support…and won. We’re not going to make any claims about whether that was right or wrong, but it’s worth pointing out that by every single legal definition of family, it’s completely possible to end up legally a part of a family that you not only had no desire to be a part of, but were legally incapable of choosing to be a part of.

Choosing to Keep it Simple
All of this is a significant part of why Gucciardo Family Law limits our scope. If you have a divorce or any related legal issue, a custody battle or any related legal issue, or an adoption or any related legal issue, we’re absolutely here to help. If you’re searching Michigan for a family law attorney to help you figure out what to do when your husband’s brothers have come to move in with you and all of your sisters…sorry!

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We focus exclusively on family law matters so we are always available to answer your questions and help.

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