Witnessing Good Mothering: Experts and Expertise in Family Law Decisions

Michelle Hughes Miller, Southern Illinois University

Within judicial discourse surrounding good mothering is a value-laden reliance upon the status and perceived expertise of experts--those individuals defined by the court as knowledgeable enough to make claims about the issues before the court. These experts, a vastly diverse group of individuals, serve an important role in the evaluation of mothers and mothering and in the incorporation of motherhood ideals into case law. Utilizing a content analysis of case law from 1980-1996 I will focus on two primary aspects of the experts' role: 1) the definitional activities of experts, particularly their establishment of standards which mothers before the court are expected to meet; and 2) their evaluative activities, by which they judge mothers and their behaviors. Both of these activities essentially provide the court with a perceived objective interpretation of mothers, mothering, and motherhood that then serves as a piece of the foundation upon which judicial decision-making rests.

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Updated 05/20/2006