Legal scholars have produced a rich literature exploring how law shapes cities. These scholars have examined the authority and autonomy of municipal governments, (1) the nature of urban community, (2) and the geography of inequality. (3) Another set of legal scholars has produced an equally rich literature exploring how law shapes families. These scholars have analyzed how marriage laws systematically disadvantage African Americans and other marginalized groups, (4) how family law reinforces conceptions of traditional families, (5) and how the absence of marriage equality led courts to recognize functional parents. (6)
These discourses rarely overlap. (7) Until this Colloquium. We brought together a range of scholars from multiple fields, inside and outside law, to talk about the intersection of urban law and family law. The inspiration for the Colloquium was a book by one of us, Failure to Flourish: How Law Undermines Family Relationships. (8) Professor Huntington argues in the book that family relationships--especially parent-child relationships--are essential for human flourishing and societal flourishing, but the law too often undermines these relationships.
One of the central insights of Failure to Flourish is that family law must be understood much more capaciously than it has traditionally been conceptualized. At its core, family law concerns the set of rules that structures the legal family--who can get married, the effect of an adoption on the legal rights of birth parents, the consequences of ending a marriage, and so on. But family law is also the set of legal rules outside that core, including doctrines that regulate family interactions, such as domestic violence and child abuse laws. Most importantly, there is an even broader outer circle of family law: the legal rules, systems, policies, and subsidies that influence family life. This outer circle affects family functioning, but we do not necessarily see it as "family law." Through sentencing and policing decisions, for example, the criminal justice system determines whether children can see their mothers and fathers or whether these adults are incarcerated. Housing law determines whether a family can live in a safe, integrated neighborhood with good public schools. And workplace law determines whether a new parent will have time off to bond with a newborn, make a living wage, and have a predictable schedule.
Once we see this broad legal domain as family law, it is easier to see how the law can harm familial relationships. The decision to sentence defendants to prison, rather than a community-based alternative, means that 1.7 million children have a parent in prison. (9) This has a disproportionate impact on families of color, especially African Americans, (10) affecting the availability of...