The New Frontiers in Family Law

A Symposium

February 28-29, 2008
University of Utah, S.J. Quinney College of Law

Co-Sponsored with University of Utah Gender Studies Program
Supported by the Lee E. Teitelbaum Symposium Fund

the maps they gave us were out of date by years

—Adrienne Rich,
The Dream of  a Common Language

Mapping the Terrain

People say that family is the cornerstone of civilization.  However, that stone and the edifice of civilization it supports are hardly static.  While students of the family have long recognized that change is constant, the ways that families are changing merit close examination.  What constitutes a family and what rights and obligations come with that designation are in flux.  Change in these areas as in others has been accelerated by technologies and globalization, as well as the feminist, gay and civil rights movements.  Functions relegated to the nuclear family in the 19th century, such as reproduction, are increasingly subject to market forces. Industrialization, the welfare state, divorce, and women’s increasing participation in wage labor all allow people to live outside the nuclear family and to create alternative family forms and practices such as cohabitation, same-sex parenting, and friendships that function as family.  All of this is further complicated by geopolitical forces and technologies of travel and communication that allow families to retain strong ties to the “old country,” long after immigrating to the U.S.  In sum, families often cross households, states, and countries.

Building on these insights, this symposium maps emerging themes in family law through the lens of boundaries, broadly conceived. An outstanding collection of family law scholars will sketch changes in the landscape of family law, as follows:

  • (1) Definitional Boundaries:  Legal rules and cultural norms regulating intimate conduct constitute individuals as insiders or outsiders with respect to the normative nuclear family.  Panelists will examine implications of this process for individual civil rights, citizenship, and equality claims, focusing on how conduct understood to be outside the family redefines the center. Contexts include underage marriage, adultery, same-sex relationships, polygamy, and abortion.
  • (2) Geographic Boundaries: Technologies of communication, travel, globalization, and markets allow individuals, capital, goods, labor, culture, legal norms—even gametes and body parts—to cross geographic boundaries. This movement affects the social, cultural, economic, and legal dynamic of the family. Panelists will explore the possibilities opened and tensions produced for families by these developments. Topics include immigration, polygamy, transnational adoption, and metaphorical boundaries such as “the frontier.”
  • (3) Disciplinary Boundaries: Family law as a discipline invites questions about disciplinary boundaries. If family law is a set of contract, criminal, tort, and constitutional law rules for particular types of intimate relationships, where does the boundary between family law and these other disciplines lie? Which disciplines’ methodologies best balance individual autonomy and state power for post-nuclear families? What intersections inform legal and cultural, religious, and other definitions of family? Areas explored include the intersection of criminal law and family law, principles and paradigms for resolving intra-family disputes in the era of the post-nuclear family, and the boundary between religious and civil marriage.

In the spirit of exploring new territory, the conference includes a hybrid of academic commentary and performance in the form of short monologues voicing a wide range of experiences of family and relatedness.  These monologues will be written and performed by the symposium participants, as well as members of the University and wider community.


Kathryn Abrams, University of California-Berkeley School of Law
Penelope Andrews, Valparaiso University School of Law
Laura Briggs, University of Arizona, Department of Women’s Studies
Mary Anne Case, University of Chicago Law School
Michael Cobb, University of Toronto, Department of English
Brenda Cossman, University of Toronto Faculty of Law
Adrienne Davis, Washington University School of Law
Elizabeth Emens, Columbia Law School
Katherine Franke, Columbia Law School
Melissa Murray, University of California-Berkeley School of Law
Carol Sanger, Columbia Law School
Jana Singer, University of Maryland School of Law

Organized by:

Laura Kessler, University of Utah, S. J. Quinney School of Law 801.585.9697

Martha Ertman, University of Maryland School of Law 410.706.3923


Thursday February 28 | Sutherland Moot Courtroom
2:00  Registration and Welcome
2:30 – 4:30 Definitional Boundaries

Adrienne Davis, Is Queer Family an Oxymoron?: Musings on Big Love

Elizabeth Emens, Intimate Discrimination

Katherine Franke, Taking the Heterosexual Family Seriously

Carol Sanger, Imaging the Family: Mandatory Ultrasounds in Abortion

Laura Kessler, Moderator
7:30 – 9:00 Telling Tales on Families: Monologues

Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center
Black Box Theater
138 West Broadway
Salt Lake City, Utah 84101-1642

A production of monologues modeled on Eve Ensler’s Obie Award-winning episodic play, The Vagina Monologues, and building on the 2007 University of Utah Women’s Week production, The Mommy Monologues.

Symposium participants and performers from the University and wider community tell short stories of personal experience with family, intimacy, kinship, sexuality, and friendship.

For more details about the monologues, visit Telling Tales on Families.

Friday February 29 | Sutherland Moot Courtroom
8:30  Registration and Welcome
9:00 – 11:00 Geographic Boundaries

Kathryn Abrams, Immigration Detention: Family Integrity as an Index of Privilege

Penelope Andrews, Who’s Afraid of Polygamy?  Exploring the Boundaries of Family, Equality, and Custom in South Africa

Laura Briggs, Dreams of Solidarity, Military Nightmares: Transnational Adoption, War, and Trauma

Michael Cobb, Pioneer Sex

Erika George, Moderator
1:00 – 3:00 Disciplinary Boundaries

Mary Anne Case, Why Evangelical Protestants Are Right When They Say That State Recognition of Same-Sex Marriages Threatens Their Marriages and What the Law Should Do About It

Brenda Cossman, The “Opt Out Revolution” Through the Lens of Family Law Exceptionalism

Melissa Murray, The Space Between: The Intersection of Criminal Law and Family Law

Jana Singer, When Family Members Disagree:  Principles and Paradigms for Resolving Intra-family Disputes

Martha Ertman, Moderator
Trips into the Field

Friday afternoon, February 28:  Family History Library visit to review genealogical research methods and sources.