Volume 18, Number 7
A Handbook of Family Law Terms: A Practical Addition to Any Family Law-Related Professional
The fourth book in the Black's Law Dictionary series of substantive law-specific dictionaries, A Handbook of Family Law Terms is a truly comprehensive, one-of-a-kind glossary of more than 4,000 key words and phrases specific to family law. Edited by Bryan A. Garner, the preeminent legal lexicographer and award-winning editor of Black's Law Dictionary, the handbook provides a treasure trove of information useful to family law attorneys and general practitioners.
Helpful to all family law-related professionals. Lawyers tend to speak in legalese and forget how unnatural that language is to nonlawyers. We often think only lawyers must be familiar with legal terms and phrases. This perception contradicts reality, given how many nonlawyer professionals family law attorneys interact with routinely. This book is an excellent resource for paralegals, custody evaluators, social workers, nonlawyer children's advocates, guardians ad litem, alimony experts, and property valuators, to name a few.
Not state specific. While family law lingo is often state specific, this handbook provides a quick means of understanding terms in pleadings from outside your state. In this day and age of mobile clients and Internet inquiries, many of my clients and potential clients from out of state bring me pleadings to review, modify, or enforce, and I frankly don't always know the full meaning of all of the terms. With this book, I can easily look up the correct meaning of certain terms, rather than make dangerous assumptions based on what I think the terms mean.
Scope exceeds family law. In addition to words and phrases typically associated with divorce, custody, and adoption matters, the book encompasses definitions applicable to estate planning and intestate succession, family property concepts, abuse and neglect proceedings, juvenile delinquency proceedings, and some terms relevant to notions of individuals' rights. For example, I found the simplest, clearest explanation of the Rule Against Perpetuities I've ever seen, and I will certainly quote it verbatim to my estate planning clients to explain why I can't fulfill their desire to indefinitely tie up property in a family trust.
Why buy a family law dictionary? Just like the legal profession is struggling with the concept of "family," so too are we developing new words to describe relationships and the consequences of actions. For example, the book's introduction points out that it is now possible-thanks to modern technology and developing legal theories of parenthood-for a child to have as many as 16 parents: biological mother, biological father, gestational mother, intentional mother, intentional father, foster mother, foster father, adoptive mother, adoptive father, de facto mother, de facto father, stepmother, stepfather, psychological mother, psychological father, and legal father (husband of whomever is found to be the mother).
In some of my cases, I need a flowchart just to keep the players straight, and if it's confusing to me, I suspect it's baffling to the children. However, so long as "best interests of the child" remains the key standard for determining who gets to raise the children, we need to know how to define the child's relationship to the adult(s). Not every state has established case law in defining these roles, so this book may prove helpful in making new case law.
Thorough resource for minimal price. For only $19.95, this book would be a little gem in any attorney's resource library.
Reviewed by Mary Ann R. Baker-Randall, Board Certified Specialist in Family Law in New Mexico and a member of several General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division committees.
Note: West Group is a corporate sponsor of the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division, and this article appears in connection with the Section's Sponsorship Agreement with West Group. Neither the ABA nor ABA Sections endorse non-ABA products or services, and this article should not be so construed.
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