Introduction to the Special Collection on the Intersection of Families and the Law*

AuthorPamela A. Monroe,Tammy L. Henderson
Published date01 October 2002
Date01 October 2002
2002, Vol. 51, No. 4 289
Special Collection
special collection
Introduction to the Special Collection on the Intersection of
Families and the Law*
Tammy L. Henderson** and Pamela A. Monroe
In the U. S., citizens’ rights are rooted in the founding doc-
uments of American democracy, the United States Consti-
tution and Declaration of Independence. These documents
protect citizens’ individual rights against unwarranted govern-
ment intrusion. As suggested by Williamson (1997), the Consti-
tution protects citizens’ rights through the application of four
basic principles of America’s democracy:
Equality of Rights: Recognition and implementation in our
public and private lives that all people are created equal and
should be treated equally by the American government; equal-
ity of opportunity, although not guaranteed by the Constitution,
is often thought to follow in the context of equality of rights.
E Pluribus Unum: Despite our diversity, there is a national
unity that focuses on the principles of equality, liberty, and the
common good.
Balance of Individual Liberty and Protection of the Common
Good: It is the responsibility of the government to protect the
well-being of citizens using a system of checks and balances
to guard individual liberties, guaranteeing citizens freedom
from unwarranted government intrusion.
Religious Freedom: Citizens have the right to practice the re-
ligious faith of their choice.
Various interpretations of these documents and principles
create legal tension among citizens because everyone does not
share the views of Williamson (1977). Historically, citizens
failed to reach consensus on the principle of equal rights and
opportunity. At one point, we blatantly tolerated unequal treat-
ment of women (Hoff, 1991) and Blacks (Bell, 1992) because
laws existed on the local, state, and federal levels that limited or
omitted their political involvement. They could not vote or did
not have access to education and fair housing options. Special
rights, instead of fundamental rights, still shape the legal debate
as we struggle with the unequal treatment of lesbian and gay
families (Harvard Law Review [HLR], 1980).
Currently, we face the challenge of balancing the rights of
all citizens, including international residents, with the overall
safety of all Americans. The potential use of a national identi-
f‌ication card and other national security measures are examples
of the legal tension associated with the principles of liberty in-
terests and equal protection versus protecting our society and
*We thank Kay Pasley and Michelle Stevenson for their excellent scholarship and
support in developing this special collection on The Intersection of Families and the Law.
**Human Development (0416), 401-B Wallace Hall, Virginia Polytechnic Institute
and State University, Blacksburg, VA 24061–0416 (
(Family Relations, 2002, 51, 289–292)
way of life. Research on issues of privacy rights as inf‌luenced
by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, holds promise for
family scholars as we seek to determine the legal impact of Sep-
tember 11th on U.S. and international families.
Although these principles are not mutually exclusive, an im-
portant aspect of contemporary family law is the balance of in-
dividual liberty and the protection of the common good. We seek
to honor parental autonomy (i.e., Meyer v. Nebraska, 1923;
Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 1925; Wisconsin v. Yoder, 1972)
while protecting the rights of children (i.e., Prince v. Massachu-
setts, 1944; Wisconsin v. Yoder). We want protection against
unwarranted government intrusion on parental and family auton-
omy balanced with the nation’s responsibility to protect children
from maltreatment or threat of harm (i.e., In re C., 1977; State
v. Thorpe, 1981). We desire to promote strong family values with
the recognition of the diverse, complex familial issues associated
with grandparent visitation rights, lesbian and gay parents, re-
productive technologies, and stepparent rights and responsibili-
ties. Despite our ideological continuum of liberal, moderate, or
conservative, each of us desires to promote healthy families and
the best interests of children. In this special collection, we en-
courage our readers to look at family law against the backdrop
of the balance of rights within and across families.
Over the last 12 years, 14 articles appeared in Family Re-
lations that specif‌ically focused on family case law or presented
research based on court cases or the experiences of attorneys and
judges (see Table 1). During the same period, state and federal
courts issued many decisions affecting family life and the legal
context in which families live. We recognize the need for addi-
tional scholarship focused on family law in a family science
context. We also recognize the needs of individuals and families
who interact with the legal domain and are supported by family
professionals serving in a variety of practitioner roles. For ex-
ample, we have witnessed the increasingly important role me-
diators play as an impartial third person assisting families facing
divorce, child custody, special education disputes, and other
school-related conf‌licts. This is one career choice of family pro-
fessionals interested in the intersection of families and the law
(Emery & Wyer, 1987; Malia, Cummingham, & Wynn, 1995),
as a practitioner who is well-served by the type of scholarly
research presented herein. Monroe (1988) focused on family sci-
entists working in a legislative domain, but the roles she outlined
are transferable to work within the judicial system. She sug-
gested that family professionals inf‌luence the legislative process
as technicians, entrepreneurs, and politicians. In this classif‌ica-
tion scheme (adapted from work by Meltzer, 1972), technicians
conduct research that expands the knowledge of social science;
entrepreneurs conduct policy analysis; and politicians actively
engage in legal decision-making as judges, attorneys, expert wit-

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