Cultural Considerations in Family Law Cases

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.

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