In her new book Love’s Promises: How Formal and Informal Contracts Shape All Kinds of Families, Professor Martha Ertman mixes memoir and legal analysis to explore how formal contracts and informal “deals” can create “expectations of reciprocity and grounds for changing relationships” among families, including those of same sex couples with children.
Ertman, the mother of a young son, describes her personal journey to becoming part of a “Plan B” family through alternative insemination from her gay best friend, Victor. According to Ertman, “Plan B” families include those with uncommon characteristics, ranging from LGBT parents to cohabitation and adoption.
With new advancements in reproductive technology and changes in adoption laws, Plan B families continue to adapt contracts and deals to suit their needs, Ertman argues. She analyzes case studies involving reproductive technology to determine when a father is not a father and when an anonymous donor is no longer anonymous. Family law, Ertman notes, is increasingly allowing people to decide for themselves who is in the family circle.
“The wonderful thing about contracts, and even nonbinding deals, is that they allow people to tailor the rules to their particular situation,” she writes.
Ertman also examines the emotional and financial contracts between adult partners, which she describes as exchanges, looking first to cohabitation, and then to marriage. Drawing on insights from a wide range of social scientists, Ertman analyzes the fundamental role of exchange in couples’ lives—from household chores to childcare, observing that in judicial decisions full-time caregiving is still not as highly valued as being in the workplace.