Hofstra Law Review

Article Title

Unbundling Marriage


Marriage is emerging as a “bundle” of legal benefits and burdens. The history of domestic relations has produced a cornucopia of family arrangements, and the yield shows no signs of diminishing. At the same time, our yearning for a halcyon past has led many to the erroneous belief that the family formation consisting of two parents and the children of their ‘til-death-do-they-part union is the only culturally authentic and “traditional” one. In fact, as Michael Grossberg has observed, our domestic past has been characterized by “the constant reality of American family diversity.” As twenty-first century families are exploring new contours, the legal system is equally awash with new concepts of marital and nonmarital relationships. This Essay surveys the contested legal terrain of family formation today, and suggests that further development will largely be a product of the coming disaggregation of the legal elements which constitute the statesanctioned marriage. Marriage is being reformulated in response to a variety of social pressures: from same-sex couples seeking admission; from heterosexual couples seeking to customize their marriages; and from states, municipalities, and private groups crafting alternative versions of marriage-like partnerships. These “disagreements about the meaning . . . of a marriage contract” often do lead to “[c]onversations hard and wild.” But this Essay concludes that marriage will ultimately be reshaped into a more fluid and multi-factored form, more responsive to the needs of an ever-more diverse population.

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