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Family Law Issues Facing Multicultural Families

The history of the United States is littered with stories of culturally diverse peoples coming together. As a result, America earned a reputation as a “cultural melting pot.” While American cultural diversity can be seen as a point of pride for many Americans, multicultural families face a distinct set of social and legal challenges that families with members of the same or similar cultural backgrounds don’t face.

Cultural Values in Marriage & Divorce

At a fundamental level, cultural values inform an individual’s attitude towards marriage and divorce. For example, many East Asian cultures grew from Confucianist principles and philosophies that were popularized during the Han and Tang dynasties of ancient China. Confucianist values stressed the importance of social harmony. As a result, there is a distinct direction in which loyalty and respect flowed depending on age, gender, family, and social class.

In contrast, many modern western cultural values derive from English and European history, which was wrought with rebellion against social classes in favor of individual merit and social equality. For example, Calvinist values regarding hard work and post-World War II civil rights movements stressed the importance of personal fulfillment as the path toward being a good, productive member of society.

According to cultural values, marriage might have a greater communal significance that reflects on the family and local community as much as it would the individual spouse. Conversely, marriage can be seen more as a private matter that is primarily relevant to the individuals involved. As a result, arranged marriages remain acceptable in some cultures while other cultures view the practice as arcane and alien.

Furthermore, religion is a significant part of many cultures. For example, the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam consider marriage to have a sacred character. As a corollary, the impact that divorce has on the family at large and on their own spirituality is an important consideration for some cultures.

Therefore, there are cultural pressures that affect the incidence of divorce in certain cultures. Cultures with a prominent focus on social harmony or where marriage is a sacred religious rite have lower divorce rates. While divorce rates are higher in cultures that focus on personal fulfillment, there are fewer incidences of feeling “trapped” in a bad marriage and lower reports of interspousal abuse.

Best Interests of Multicultural Children

When it comes to issues involving child custody in the United States, the role culture plays is significant yet understated.

Contemporary legal principles in American family law developed alongside civil rights movements. In the past, the law favored one parent over the other. At first, courts presumed that a child was best left with his or her father because he was traditionally viewed as more resourceful. However, later courts considered the mother to be in a better position to have custody due to the time she spent raising the child and the close psychological bond between the two. The current legal status quo for child custody cases in most jurisdictions focuses the inquiry on circumstances affecting the best interests of a child.

For example, California courts are statutorily required to evaluate certain factors when determining how a custody arrangement impacts the best interests of child. Among those factors involves an evaluation of what custody arrangement supports continuity and stability for a child.

Where ethnicity and culture comes into play when evaluating a child’s best interests raises important questions:

  • Should courts consider the ethnic and cultural background of a child when making custody decisions?
  • Should a child’s culture match the culture of the community where a child will grow up?
  • Should a multicultural and multiethnic child be placed in a community dominated by a culture that is historically and statistically empowered and socially privileged over a community dominated by a culture that is historically and statistically marginalized and socially disadvantaged?
  • Does a child have an interest in maintaining ethnic and cultural ties with a parent or extended family?

Contact Bremer Whyte Brown & O’Meara for Quality Legal Services

A respect and understanding of different cultures can be helpful in marriage and negotiating aspects of a divorce. The ability to view issues from a different perspective is an advantage that can go a long way in family law cases. At Bremer Whyte Brown & O’Meara, our legal team not only has a sophisticated understanding of the laws that apply to your case, but also has real-world experience in other relevant matters such as the importance of culture when it comes to family values and goals.

For a consultation about your family law case, call us at (949) 229-8546 or contact us online today.