Document Type


Publication Title

New England Law Review

Publication Date

Summer 1997


Primarily through the analysis of relevant cases in law, this Article reviews the history of a single idea central to a heated modem debate of momentous social and legal import. It does so in the hope that an historical perspective will afford each of the two major parties to the modem debate a heightened understanding of its own agenda, and of the agenda of its adversary, and will thus contribute both to the tone and to the substance of the debate.

The debate is about the meaning of family in contemporary American society and law. The idea central to this debate is that the best interests of children should be the principal consideration in family life, and in family law. The historical survey should advance the debate by demonstrating that the idea came into existence only recently; that as it evolved it improved significantly the lives of all children but those of the poor; and that one ancient institution whose decline it hastened was used, when near extinction, to the disadvantage of poor children.



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