Volume 18, Number 7
October/November 2001

From the Editor

Close to Home

By jennifer j. rose

The couple spoke of their family, which now numbered more than a hundred members, scattered from Boston to Kansas to Hollywood, and then they chimed in about a corporation and astrology. Confused, I finally had to ask, feeling somewhat like a cross between Edith Bunker and Larry King, "Are y'all a real family, or one of those New Age-y tightly bound clans of kindred spirits?" And then the idiocy of my question dawned on me. They were members of the Fort Hill Community, one of the last remaining communes dating back from the early sixties, holdovers from the Age of Aquarius, which defined "family" in their own special way.

Popular culture constantly attempts to redefine "family," from Bachelor Father, Father Knows Best, and My Three Sons to All in the Family and Family Ties. And even Family Feud. And Space Family Robinson and the Addams Family. Nothing sells better than "family"-whether it's the Partridge Family, Sly and the Family Stone, or even the politicians' favorite phrase-family values. Families are everyone-inside the law and out. And just when you're ready to define "family," the definition changes.

No other area of practice strikes home like family law. Most lawyers can comfortably represent victims of car crashes, defend criminals and corporations, probate estates of the dead, and shield debtors from the clutches of greedy creditors without any experience whatsoever in the client's shoes, but nearly ever lawyer living has direct and immediate experience as a family member. Castigating it as social work, "not real law," or just hitting too close to the heart, some lawyers would rather clean toilets in a bus station than face up to practicing family law. It's an area of practice that can become too riddled with emotion, in which the rules constantly change, where clients can change their minds as frequently as underwear, and that frankly can be more than a little off-putting to the unwary.

Family law is a much broader practice than it was even 20 years ago. Just as definitions of "family" have changed from the days of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett, so too has the practice expanded from legal procedures matching the usual rites of passage. Unwed mothers' homes and orphanages may have gone the way of the Scarlet Letter, but adoption's hotter than ever and out in the open. The traditional TV families of the fifties-the Nelsons, the Andersons, the Stones, and the Cleavers-are almost as rare today as the black and white Philcos we used to watch them on. The generation who grew up on a diet of TV dinners went on to envision contract arrangements anticipating a parting of the ways long before death, enduring partnerships between those of the same gender, and parenting rights of nonparents.

Bryan Spencer, whose career as an Army JAG officer unwittingly put him in charge of dealing with some of the planet's most unusual family law scenarios, spearheaded this issue, enlisting the talents of a broad range of family law experts. While he might not think of himself as a family law practitioner, he knew just how much family law pervades areas of law that many could consider immune.

This issue of GPSolo brings you an overview of the cutting-edge issues in family law-issues every reader needs to understand.

jennifer j. rose, editor-in-chief of GPSolo, is a lawyer and writer living in Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico. She can be reached at jenniferrose@abanet.org.

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