Dilemmas of Shared Parenting in the the 21st Century: How Law and Culture Shape Child Custody

Lecture Date


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Professor DiFonzo’s lecture focused on the most significant — and disturbing — development in child custody determinations in a generation. The formally gender-neutral “best interests” standard is under attack across the United States, triggered by a father’s rights movement calling for a presumptive 50-50 division of child custody upon divorce. Bills have been introduced in many state legislatures that would replace the individualized child custody decision with a mathematical formula.

Professor DiFonzo discussed the problem and proposed a solution drawn from the increasing use of “parenting plans” devised by the divorcing parents themselves. These homemade custody resolutions, frequently constructed with the help of mediation and other techniques to avoid litigation, provide methods for sharing custody more in keeping with child development findings in psychology and less likely to lead to further litigation.

Professor DiFonzo previously gave the Distinguished Faculty Lecture in 2005, and he is the first Hofstra professor honored with a second invitation to deliver this lecture.

Speaker Information

Born in Buenos Aires and raised in New York City, J. Herbie DiFonzo has taught at Hofstra since 1995. He is a Professor of Law and has also served as Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Director of the Criminal Justice Clinic, and Director of the LL.M. Program in Family Law.

Prof. DiFonzo received a B.S in Sociology from St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia, and J.D., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Virginia. Following law school graduation, he served as an Attorney General’s Honors Law Graduate at the United States Department of Justice. He had a wide-ranging two decades of law practice before becoming a full-time professor, including stints as a federal prosecutor and as a litigator in the areas of family law, criminal defense, negligence, and professional malpractice. In all, he conducted over 30 jury trials and several dozen appeals, including co-authoring two successful merits briefs in the United States Supreme Court.

Prof. DiFonzo has won numerous awards for his teaching and writing. He teaches courses in family law, civil procedure, and alternatives to litigation; and he writes primarily on issues in family law and criminal justice. He has authored two books:Intimate Associations: The Law and Culture of American Families (co-authored with Ruth C. Stern) (2013), and Beneath the Fault Line: The Popular and Legal Culture of Divorce in Twentieth-Century America (1997).

He has served as a Co-Reporter for two national family law projects. These include the Shared Parenting Project, sponsored by the Association of Families & Conciliation Courts (with Prof. Marsha Kline Pruett); and the Family Law Education Reform (FLER) Project, a national effort to improve family law teaching, for which he and Prof. Mary E. O’Connell received the 2006 Stanley Cohen Distinguished Research Award.

In 2014, Prof. DiFonzo delivered the Hofstra University Distinguished Faculty Lecture, Dilemmas of Shared Parenting in the 21st Century: How Law and Culture Shape Child Custody. Other major presentations include Medical Marijuana: History, Law, & Federalism for the Gitenstein Institute for Health Law and Policy (2015); The Odyssey of Shared Parenting, Plenary Presentation at the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts’ Annual Conference (2014); The Children of Baby M: Can Functional Norms Resolve Surrogacy’s Core Question?, Wells Conference on Adoption Law, Capital University Law School (2010); and The Surprising Unreliability of DNA Evidence: A Tale of Bad Labs and Good Statutes of Limitations, Hofstra University Distinguished Faculty Lecture (2005).

Recent articles and essays include From the Rule of One to Shared Parenting: Custody Presumptions in Law and Policy; Closing the Gap: Research, Policy, Practice and Shared Parenting, AFCC Think Tank Final Report (with Marsha Kline Pruett); How Marriage Became Optional: Cohabitation, Gender, and the Emerging Functional Norms; and The Crimes of Crime Labs; as well as several articles co-authored with Ruth C. Stern:Breaking the Mold and Picking Up the Pieces: Rights of Parenthood and Parentage in Nontraditional Families; The Children of Baby M.; The End of the Red Queen's Race: Medical Marijuana in the New Century; The Winding Road from Form to Function: A Brief History of Contemporary Marriage; and Devil in a White Coat: The Temptation of Forensic Evidence in the Age of CSI.