Divorcing Your Parents

Sean Hannon Williams - University of Texas School of Law
Vol. 57
November 2023
Page 665

This Article argues that adult children should be able to “divorce” their parents. In loftier prose, they should be able to free themselves from the state’s conscriptive family law regime that assigns them a legal status-relationship at birth and reifies natural law by refusing to even contemplate the possibility of exit. To illustrate the issue, it begins with stories of egregious parental wrongs, and the resulting adult children who feel that they are harmed when the state insists that they cannot exit the legal-parent-child relationship. Even absent serious wrongs, some adult children want the state to recognize the people who parented them as legal parents, and, conversely, to revoke legal recognition from their existing legal parents. Giving adult children the power to exit dysfunctional relationships is foundationally important for autonomy and identity. This is largely taken for granted in other adult relationships. But a facade of natural law occludes the possibility of exit from parent-child relationships. Once we see through this facade and understand that the legal definitions of family are political decisions, we can correctly identify that the proper questions are when and how, not whether, to allow adult children to exit the legal-parent-child relationship. Robust and unilateral exit rights best respect the autonomy and identity interests of adult children. Recent victories in recognizing families of choice should not be artificially constrained to empower only parents. Adult children, too, deserve the opportunity to create families of choice, which necessarily entails the power to leave families of conscription.

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