Monthly Archives: November 2020

A Status Breakdown

Kaiponanea T. Matsumura, Breaking Down Status, __ Wash. U. L.R. __ (forthcoming 2021), available at SSRN.

One of the hottest topics in family scholarship today is the proper legal treatment of unmarried cohabiting couples. Of course, it is hardly a new topic: it has been a center of controversy at least since the Marvin v. Marvin decision almost 45 years ago. On one side, it has been argued that giving unmarried couples marriage-like rights (equitable division of property at the end of the relationship or a claim for something like alimony) would undermine the public policy favoring marriage, while also not respecting the autonomy of those who declined to marry precisely to avoid such obligations. On the other side, refusing any marriage-like rights to long-term unmarried cohabitants would arguably fail to protect vulnerable parties (in particular, those partners, usually women, who have given up careers) and create an unjust result between the parties (where often one party leaves a long-term cohabitation with much more property than the other, often after having promised that household earnings would be shared).

During the decades since Marvin v. Marvin, the number of couples cohabiting outside of marriage has increased significantly; the Census in 2018 reported that more people in the 18-24 year group were living with a partner than were living with a spouse. However, outside a handful of states (e.g., Washington State, with its status of “Committed Intimate Relationship”), and excluding the small number of couples who enter detailed written agreements, unmarried cohabitants are still treated as legal strangers. Indeed, as Kaiponanea Matsumura points out in “Breaking Down Status” – and others have pointed out as well1 – cohabitants are treated by the law worse than legal strangers, as courts will regularly refuse enforcement of informal agreements between cohabitants (exchanges are presumed to be made altruistically) that would be more likely to be enforced between strangers. (P. 58.) Continue reading "A Status Breakdown"

Teaching Our Students to Counsel Against Funeral Poverty

Victoria J. Haneman, Funeral Poverty, __ Univ. of Richmond L. Rev. __ (forthcoming 2021), available at SSRN.

Twenty years into teaching Estates, Victoria J. Haneman’s Funeral Poverty has made me reconsider my syllabus. Neither I, nor the textbook I use, discuss the death care industry, which includes funeral homes, pre-need sales, crematories, cemeteries, and third-party vendors of goods. Funeral Poverty convinced me that in a course where almost all content is death-related, we need to cover death services.

Professor Haneman writes that in 2019, the median cost of laying a loved one to rest was $9,000—a number that is “particularly stark” when 4 out of 10 Americans report they would have difficulty meeting an unexpected $400 expense. (P. 1.) For the average consumer, death services will be the third largest category of expenses over the course of a lifetime, behind only houses and automobiles. Moreover, “death care in the United States is an area of conspicuous consumption on which lower income families spend far more than high income families. . . . In 2014, the top 1 percent spent significantly less in absolute dollars than everyone else, the middle class fell in line with national averages, and the poor spent a 26% greater share of total expenditures than the national average.” (P. 32.) Continue reading "Teaching Our Students to Counsel Against Funeral Poverty"

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