October 2013

The messiness of family law

By Margaret Klaw
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Margaret Klaw’s Keeping It Civil offers a dishy behind-the-scenes look at family law, which takes place at “the vortex of marriage, divorce, parenthood, sex, money, love, anger, betrayal, sexual orientation, reproductive technology, and the rapidly shifting legal landscape on which it all plays out.” Interested yet? This fascinating book offers readers a front-row seat to all the drama.

Klaw, the founder of an all-women law firm in Philadelphia, explores such issues as how divorcing parties divide assets and how the court determines the best interests of the child. In “Anatomy of a Trial”—a string of interconnected chapters so interesting I was tempted to flip straight to them—she provides a fictionalized play-by-play of a custody battle. She often presents a scene to readers, invites them to consider it, and then analyzes it further in a way that seems to change everything.

For instance, Klaw describes a young man without legal representation who is trying to duck out of a child support debt. Luckily for him, he represents himself well and manages to “dodge a bullet,” but before the reader can breathe a sigh of relief, Klaw points out that she usually represents the opposing side—the women who need child support from the men who can’t pay it. She pokes holes in the young man’s arguments even as she acknowledges the difficulty of his situation.

In short, it is both Klaw’s legal expertise and her warmheartedness that make this book so approachable—and her terrific prose doesn’t hurt, either. I especially recommend this for book groups, where discussions about these ethical and legal dilemmas will no doubt be spirited.

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Keeping It Civil

Keeping It Civil

By Margaret Klaw
ISBN 9781616202392

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