Can Women Lawyers Have It All?

The July/August issue of The Atlantic features the article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a lawyer, Princeton professor and former director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department. Already the article has provoked a firestorm of controversy in print and online, as women and men weigh in on Slaughter’s bottom line: having it all in a rarified top tier job is not currently possible, but could be if we make some much needed changes to society and workplaces.

Slaughter begins the article by describing her own conflict between her dream foreign policy job with the State Department, and her then 14-year-old son who had been acting out at school back in Princeton, New Jersey. Slaughter was working in Washington D.C. during the week, leaving her husband in charge of their two boys; she would return home each weekend to be with the family. Although Slaughter had always assumed she would continue in such a dream job as long as her party was in power, she found that not only did her family need her at home, but she wanted to be there for them. Consequently, as soon as her two-year tenure at the State Department was over, she returned home to Princeton and resumed her work as a tenured professor.


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Missing Children

The New York Times has been abuzz of late with articles suggesting that a long-ago missing child case may have finally been solved. Thirty-three years ago, six-year-old Etan Patz disappeared while walking the 1½ blocks to his school bus stop. Acting on a tip in this now cold case, police investigators recently dug up a basement located on Etan’s route, looking for a body. They did not find one, but another tip led them to Pedro Hernandez, who has confessed…

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Divorce Is Never Easy

Every few years, we can count on hearing social commentary on the alleged erosion of American values.  Predictably, marriage is part of the discussion, and inevitably, the American divorce rate is cited as a cause for concern.  The figure usually cited is that 50% of marriages in the U.S. end in divorce, although the true figure is somewhere between 40% and 50% overall, with higher rates among couples who married at younger ages and lower rates for couples who married at older ages. 

The usual trajectory of this discussion is for someone to claim that we have made divorce “too easy,” that marriages are viewed as throwaway commodities, and that the whole mess started in the 1970s when American states began to adopt no fault statutes.  Prior to that time, one spouse had to claim total innocence in the marital breakdown while proving “fault” by the other party in one of several designated categories – typically adultery, desertion, or physical or mental cruelty. This proof was a painful and distasteful process, and it could both lengthen the divorce process and make it more expensive. 

The adoption of no fault provisions made it possible for one party to obtain a divorce by alleging a ground such as “irretrievable breakdown” of the marriage without specifically attributing the blame to either partner.  Since U.S. divorce rates peaked in the early 1980s after the adoption of no-fault laws, social critics periodically argue that we should return to fault-based statutes to make divorce hard to obtain.


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The Many Faces of Adoption

Recent news reports describe a new twist in adoption practice. According to the reports John Goodman, a wealthy Florida man, has adopted his 42 year old girlfriend, apparently in an attempt to protect some of his assets against possible losses in a wrongful death action filed against him. Goodman is alleged to have been drunk at the time he ran a stop sign, resulting in an accident that killed another man. Prior to the adoption of his girlfriend, Goodman had set up a trust for his two minor children, which the girlfriend may now share in as an adopted child, and news reports say that, under Florida law, the parents of the deceased man could not claim wrongful death damages from that trust.

When most people hear the word “adoption,” they picture what I often call the “Little Orphan Annie” model. You will recall in the Broadway play “Annie,” and before that in the “Little Orphan Annie” comic strip, Annie was only an infant when she was abandoned on the orphanage steps by her poor parents. After many adventures, Annie was adopted by Daddy Warbucks, a kind man with the emotional and economic resources to provide Annie with a real, forever home. Similarly, many people think of adoption mainly as a procedure for bringing babies and young children into forever families who will love and protect them. Although adoption takes that form for many people, in fact adoptions of older children and of stepchildren (adopted by second spouses to one of the children’s birth parents) are becoming more and more common.


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Does Marijuana Possession Equal Child Neglect?

According to a recent NewYork Times article, many New York parents who have been caught with marijuana or who have admitted using it have found themselves charged with child neglect and have even, in some cases, lost custody of their children.  In many of these cases, the amounts of marijuana in question have been too small to bring even misdemeanor charges against the parents for possession.  Nevertheless, the parents have been deemed neglectful and their children have been removed by child protective services, which have placed the kids in foster care for days, weeks or months.

These cases illustrate one of the most difficult problems in child protection law: how do we define what is “good enough” parenting, and what is child abuse or child neglect? (more…)

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