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Dominant Discourse, Professional Language, and Legal Change in Child Custody Decisionmaking

Martha Fineman
Harvard Law Review
Vol. 101, No. 4 (Feb., 1988), pp. 727-774
DOI: 10.2307/1341172
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1341172
Page Count: 48
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Dominant Discourse, Professional Language, and Legal Change in Child Custody Decisionmaking
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Abstract

This Article examines the changing relationship between legal and non-legal decisionmakers in custody cases. Although custody determinations historically were viewed as legal events accomplished by legal decisionmakers through legal procedures, the recent trend toward joint custody and mandatory mediation represents an appropriation by the helping professions of authority in this area. Professor Fineman argues that the shared-parenting ideal established by these professional groups facilitated substantive change in long-standing custody policy. These changes have been obscured by the helping professions' focus on the decisionmaking process. Professor Fineman analyzes the helping professions' presentation of the contrasting therapeutic and legal models and argues that the success of the helping professions in displacing legal divorce in custody matters resulted from their criticism of existing practices, procedures, and decisionmakers and from their success in labeling divorce as an emotional crisis. Professor Fineman suggests a return to a legal model in custody cases and proposes the "primary parent" rule as the way to implement this goal.

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