By: Alan E. Freed
Growing up, I was led to believe that the TV family, personified by June, Ward, Wally, and the Beaver, and by “Father Knows Best,” was an accurate representation of average Americans, with Mom staying home, tending to the two-plus kids, and Dad working in an office (what did these guys actually do for a living?) and coming home to a lively family meal.
Today, we not only recognize that this idealized version of the family was not representative of vast numbers of post-war Americans, but we’ve also become comfortable with the idea that the modern family comes in a rich variety of forms, from single-parent families to blended families to same sex couples to multi-generational families and more.
Our laws are intended to protect our children, who have no say in what kinds of families they are raised in but, for a variety of reasons, the law always moves more slowly than societal trends. Consequently, the legislatures and courts are constantly playing catch-up, as they struggle to come up with ways to tend to children’s needs.
In recent months, Missouri’s courts have seen a substantial up-tick in cases dealing with issues such as how to maintain relationships between children and their stepparents, grandparents, and others who have played significant roles in the children’s upbringings. These issues are often tied in with the relationships of single-sex couples, where one parent may have a biological connection to the child, but, from the child’s perspective, both parents have played critical and, perhaps indistinguishable, roles.
A family law attorney’s job often includes attempts to make laws designed for a “Leave It to Beaver” world fit a “Modern Family” reality. We ask courts to fashion remedies that focus on children’s needs to have loving, supportive relationships with those best positioned to care for them, and the courts do their best to interpret those laws fairly and accurately. Since the legislature, which is responsible for passing laws, rarely can keep up with changing family models, we are constrained to do the best we can with the tools available to us.
We anticipate that the courts will be providing us with more answers in the coming months, but we recognize that the ground beneath us keeps shifting and we must remain both aware of the world around us and creative in using our legal skills.
The lawyers at Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal who handle family law matters have been deeply involved in a series of cases exploring the how we can adapt to these shifting realities, as we represent stepparents, same sex adoptive parents, extended family members caring for children, and a host of other non-traditional providers of love and support for children. We continue to strive to find ways to adapt to the changing American family.