Does the American family law system share traits with polygamous societies?

By August 6, 2012 May 20th, 2016 Family Law

On behalf of The Marks Law Firm, L.L.C posted in Family Law on Monday, August 6, 2012

A cross-cultural study recently completed by a University of Missouri anthropologist shows some surprising traits common to both the American family law system and a number of polygamous cultures around the world. Though polyandry (the act of a woman marrying more than one husband at a time) is neither socially nor legally acceptable in the United States, some of our country’s social constructs fill the gaps otherwise covered by multiple partners in other countries.

The study focused on the care of children in both American society and in various polyandrous societies around the globe. They found that certain legal constructs of the family law system, including child support payments, alimony and life insurance policies serve the same function as subsequent husbands do elsewhere – support and insurance payments provide economic support equivalent to that offered by extra spouses in other cultures. Study author Kathrine Starkweather says that “some aspects of American life mirror polyandrous societies…child support payments provide for offspring when one parent is absent.”

The study raises interesting questions not only about the propriety of polygamous societies, but also about the evolution of marital and child-rearing ideals found around the world. While the American legal system is a modern construct, there is evidence of polyandrous societies designed to provide the same benefits – support of young children, economic assistance to mothers and providing for the next generation – dating back for millennia.

Clearly, the study is by no means insinuating that the American construct of monogamous marriages is in danger of extinction, but there are lessons to be learned from examining the family-oriented practices of other cultures. As Starkweather says, “human marriage structures aren’t written in stone; throughout history, people have adapted their societal norms to ensure the survival and well-being of their children.”

Source: Insurance News, “Multiple Husbands Serve as Child Support and Life Insurance in Some Cultures Says MU Researchers,” University of Missouri Press Release, August 2, 2012