Skip to main content

Family, Law, and Community

Supporting the Covenant

In the wake of vast social and economic changes, the nuclear family has lost its dominance, both as an ideal and in practice. Some welcome this shift, while others see civilization itself in peril—but few move beyond ideology to develop a nuanced understanding of how families function in society. In this provocative book, Margaret F. Brinig draws on research from a variety of disciplines to offer a distinctive study of family dynamics and social policy.

Concentrating on legal reform, Brinig examines a range of subjects, including cohabitation, custody, grandparent visitation, and domestic violence. She concludes that conventional legal reforms and the social programs they engender ignore social capital: the trust and support given to families by a community. Traditional families generate much more social capital than nontraditional ones, Brinig concludes, which leads to clear rewards for the children. Firmly grounded in empirical research, Family, Law, and Community argues that family policy can only be effective if it is guided by an understanding of the importance of social capital and the advantages held by families that accrue it.

288 pages | 14 halftones, 26 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2010

Law and Legal Studies: Law and Society


“This valuable and original work showcases Margaret Brinig’s wide-ranging talents and deep understanding of family life. She is the rare scholar who can comfortably weave together insights from sociological theory, judicial decisions, high-tech econometric studies—and, so appropriately in the domestic sphere, the possibility of unconditional love.”

Robert Ellickson, Yale Law School

“This fine book shows why Margaret Brinig is America’s leading family-law scholar. She anchors her arguments in both sound legal scholarship and her own high-quality empirical research. Her work in this book corrects individualistic trends in family law theory towards the dogma of ‘private ordering’ and restores the role that law can play in creating trust and community support for today’s troubled families. A great book.”

Don Browning, University of Chicago

“This is an important, innovative book that addresses some of the hottest topics in family law. Brinig brings impressive skills and a sophisticated command of the law to the task of assessing and reforming family policy. Her fresh insights are bound to provoke debate.”--Barbara Woodhouse, Emory University

Barbara Woodhouse

“There is no one better than Brinig at combining social science, policy analysis, values, and common sense to bring clarity to the toughest questions in family law. Even where one might be tempted to disagree with Brinig’s ultimate conclusions, one always leaves her work seeing the debates in a way completely different from the way one saw them before. And there is no greater compliment I can think of for a scholar.”

Brian Bix, University of Minnesota

Table of Contents



I.          Norms, Families, and Community

Chapter 1.        The Relationship between Trust and Community Recognition    

Chapter 2.        Norms within Families, or the Family Community          

II.         The Boundaries of Family Communities

Chapter 3.        The Limits of Community and the Role of Autonomy    

Chapter 4.        Reaching the Limit: Granting Insiders and Outsiders Rights        

III.       Families, Mimetics, and Community

Chapter 5.        The Family as “Little Commonwealth”: The Role of Mimetics    

Chapter 6.        What Happens When Trust Fails? Mimetics in Families Gone Wrong    




Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press