Document Type


Publication Title

Wisconsin Journal of Law, Gender & Society

Publication Date

Spring 2014


Family law is shaped by innumerable factors including history, culture, politics, religion, economics and ideas. This Article explores the ways in which family law is shaped by geography. In what ways is New York family law unique? How did it get that way?

As a practical matter, it is a given that family law is local. While federal law mandates child support guidelines, state law sets them. While federal law prohibits parental kidnapping, state law determines what constitutes ‘kidnapping’, and what distinguishes it from ‘rescue’. From the prerequisites for entering into marriage through the grounds for divorce and the ‘equitable’ distribution of marital property, state law governs and state law varies, often widely.

This Article highlights the anomalies of New York family law across a broad range of topics: marriage, divorce, equitable distribution, maintenance, child support, pre-marital as well as separation agreements, parentage laws, and unmarried cohabitants. New York family law is as idiosyncratic as the people who live here, and it is as readily identifiable as the Valentine’s Day heart on the Empire State Building, or the rats and pigeons who answer the princesses’ call in Enchanted, or the Borscht Belt hotel in Dirty Dancing. And just as New York shapes its family law, its family law shapes New York.