Marriage and Divorce in a Multicultural Context: Multi-Tiered Marriage and the Boundaries of Civil Law and Religion



Joel A. NicholsUniversity of St Thomas, Minnesota


American family law makes two key assumptions: first, that the civil state possesses sole authority over marriage and divorce; and second, that the civil law may contain only one regulatory regime for such matters. These assumptions run counter to the multicultural and religiously plural nature of our society. This book elaborates how those assumptions are descriptively incorrect, and it begins an important conversation about whether more pluralism in family law is normatively desirable. For example, may couples rely upon religious tribunals (Jewish, Muslim, or otherwise) to decide family law disputes? May couples opt into stricter divorce rules, either through premarital contracts or ‘covenant marriages’? How should the state respond? Intentionally interdisciplinary and international in scope, this volume contains contributions from fourteen leading scholars. The authors address the provocative question of whether the state must consider sharing its jurisdictional authority with other groups in family law.

Key Features

  • Features chapters from fourteen leading scholars on the respective roles of the state and religious communities in marriage and divorce
  • Offers an international perspective on marriage and divorce issues while still being grounded primarily in the North American experience
  • A truly interdisciplinary book drawing on experts in law, multicultural theory, sociology and religion


“This well-crafted volume creates an intelligent and incisive debate about one of the burning issue of our times, the proper relationships between civil and religious law. The contributors ask whether states should cede to religions some authority over marriage and divorce. Readers will find lively exchange, not consensus, as the authors examine Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and various Christian doctrines and practices across a wide array of contexts, with detailed analyses of the pluralism already present in North America. A must-read for anyone engaged with these questions.”
– John R. Bowen
Dunbar-Van Cleve Professor, Washington University in St. Louis


“I picked up what I expected to be a dry, predictable, academic treatment of marriage and found myself fascinated. The authors persuasively make the case that marriage varies across time, place and culture and that a rich legal tradition in many states and countries reconciles different religious practices with civil legal regulation. This book is foundational for anyone wishing to reconsider the relationship between marriage and the state.”
– June Carbone
Edward A. Smith/Missouri Chair of Law, the Constitution and Society Professor, the University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Law

Book Details

  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (October 31, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 052119475X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521194754



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