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Developments in Family Law in the Post-Nuclear Family Age

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on July 06, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Our definition of family has changed greatly since Eve was fashioned from Adam's rib, Athena sprung fully-formed from her father's head, or Oedipus gouged out his eyes -- even since Ward and June Cleaver settled down together.

Just last year, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples are entitled to equal marriage rights, expanding the range of families protected by the law. And the concept of family remains in flux, as changes in social norms and reproductive technology displace the nuclear family as our primary family model. How will this impact family law practice today?

Goodbye Nuclear Family

The Rockwellian, post-WWII nuclear family has been fading from dominance just about ever since WWII ended. The reasons are manifold: increases in divorce and non-marital cohabitation, lowering rates of marriage generally, expanding definitions of the family unit, and more.

When it comes to family law, one of the major changes in recent years has been the rise of assisted reproduction technology (ART), such as in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, and surrogacy. These technologies have expanded access to reproduction, but also complicated the patterns upon which much of family law is based.

For example, many states grant the same legal parent-child rights to children born from in vitro fertilization and the person or persons using the technique. But, in some cases, IVF and artificial insemination will make use of genetic material from third-party donors, complicating the typical legal relationship.

In California, the law has accommodated such possibilities. If a married woman conceives through ART with a man who is not her husband, her spouse is treated as the natural father, so long as the ART was performed by a licensed physician and the spouse consented.

That is just one of the many areas in which family law is evolving to meet the needs of our changing families. Surrogacy, same-sex parenthood, births to more than two parents, and even posthumous births and custody of frozen embryos are becoming increasingly common family law issues.

Luckily, there are plenty of resources for the practitioner looking to stay on top of family law's newest developments. For lawyers in the Golden State, for example, there's "Strategies for Family Law in California," published by Thomson Reuters' Aspatore. (Disclosure: Aspatore is FindLaw's sister company.)

Part of the Inside the Minds series, this practice tool brings together seasoned family law practitioners with decades of experience between them. It covers everything from post-death conception, to the role of retirement benefits in family law, to the role of offshore funds in divorce proceedings, all presented by leaders in the field. So, if you're navigating the world of family law practice, from traditional divorce disputes to cutting-edge custody battles, "Strategies for Family Law in California" is a resource you shouldn't go without.

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