person’s culture is part of their identity. We tend to share a system
of values with other members who belong to the same culture. According
to anthropologist E.B. Taylor, culture refers to “that complex whole
which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other
capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”
Thus, a person’s culture has a significant impact on marriages and
children. This article discusses how culture plays a major role in family
dynamics and family law.
Culture and Marriage
A spouse’s culture plays a significant part in a marriage. Cultural
norms and standards regarding marriage inform a person’s expectations
for themselves and their spouse. According to a study by Katalin Toth
and Markus Kemmelmeier published in Cross-Cultural Research titled “Divorce Attitudes Around the World: Distinguishing the Impact of Culture
on Evaluations and Attitude Structure” countries with advanced industrial societies tend to have higher
divorce rates. The study attributes this phenomenon to how industrial
societies emphasize individualist principles over collectivist principles.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that individualist principles
are incompatible with the institution of marriage or is somehow “worse”
than collectivist values. Instead, Toth and Kemmelmeier explain that “people
in individualist societies are often unwilling to sacrifice their personal
fulfillment for a bad marriage, even when the act of divorce implies great
emotional and financial costs.”
In contrast, collectivist societies have a higher regard for tradition
and conventional social values, such as self-sacrifice for the family
and reverence for parental and elder approval regarding a person’s
spouse. Divorce is highly frowned-upon in collectivist societies because
it is perceived as a failure that reflects on the family unit as a whole.
As a result of these social pressures, divorce rates tend to be lower
in collectivist societies. For example, some Southeast Asian and Middle
Eastern cultures have strict laws restricting or prohibiting divorce.
Moreover, in some patriarchal societies, men have the exclusive right to
initiate a divorce. Because women are expected to focus on preserving
the family, patriarchal societies often perceive divorce as the result
of the wife’s failure to fulfill her marital duties.
When the belief structure of a person’s culture differs or conflicts
with that of their spouse, communication and the willingness to compromise
become essential to maintaining and healthy sustainable marriage. Multicultural
couples should make finding common ground a priority, and help their spouse
understand the values and beliefs of their culture while respecting those
of their spouse’s culture.
Culture’s Role in Child Custody and Development
The family unit is the primary conduit through which culture is propagated
in society. Children are socialized by learning about cultural customs
and values from their parents, schools, and the broader community. Therefore
a person’s connection to their heritage becomes an inextricable
part of their identity. Children born to multicultural parents tend to
have a unique status in the eyes of their parents’ respective cultures.
Due to their mixed backgrounds, children with multicultural backgrounds
may still relate to both cultures, but feel less connected as they may
never fully belong to one culture or another.
Much of the California Family Code regarding laws regulating parental rights
and child custody focuses on the “best interests of the child.”
Although California law does not provide definitive parameters to determine
a child’s best interests, courts typically give serious consideration
to a child’s safety and health along with a parent’s ability
to provide a secure environment to foster healthy development in a child.
However, does a child with a multicultural background have an interest
in developing a connection with their cultural heritage? If so, can the
best interests of a child be served by favoring one parent’s culture
over that of the other parent? This issue becomes even more complex when
culture and race or nationality are seemingly intertwined. When a custody
battle involves a parent who belongs to a historically empowered class
in society against a parent from a historically marginalized social class,
should a court consider these cultural differences? Does the court even
have the authority to consider the likelihood and potential impact of
regional prejudice when resolving a custody dispute between parents who
live in racially and culturally homogenized areas of the country?
These questions probably don’t have simple answers. However, when
you find yourself in a conflict with a current or former spouse regarding
family values – whether at home or in the courthouse – if
you take the time to consider these issues, you might develop some insight
into the person across from you and help you reach an understanding from
which you can better address future issues.
Call Our Quality Westlake Village Divorce Attorney to Learn More
At the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Graff, our lead attorney is dedicated
to advocating for the best interests of you and your family. With more
than 35 years of experience working with family law cases, Attorney Graff
is committed to ensuring you receive a fair resolution to your divorce or other
family law matters.
For a free consultation with Attorney Graff, call us at (805) 633-4999 or
contact us online today.