Intimate Violence and the Laws of Marriage and Family Relationships

Godpower O. Okereke, Fayetteville State University

Changes in contemporary society have brought about serious changes within the institution of the family (Ewing, 1997; Minow, 1993). These changes have in turn resulted in changes in laws that govern marriage and family relationships (Alexander, 1975). While these laws do not reflect all the changes that have taken place within the family yet, some of the legal changes are said to exacerbate some forms of family problems including intimate violence (Alexander, 1975). This study examines the laws governing marriage and family relationships in an effort to understand whether such laws affect the incidence of intimate violence. A review of state and federal legislative and case laws relating to marriage and family relationships indicate that many of such laws are gender-biased but are moving toward gender neutrality and a definition of marriage as a type of partnership of equals. Although the literature indicates that it is easier to get a divorce nowadays than four decades ago, majority of the states still have fault divorce laws which force couples to wash their dirty linens in public. Based on these findings the author concludes that the incidence of intimate violence is partly a function of a disparity between the law and changes in family relationships and suggests that the law be changed to accommodate the needs of the contemporary family.

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Updated 05/20/2006