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Book Celebration Explores Cynthia Bowman’s “Living Apart Together”

“What I began to see was that a quiet revolution was going on,” said Cynthia Grant Bowman, speaking March 5 at a virtual celebration for her new book. Bowman, the Dorthea S. Clarke Professor of Law at Cornell Law School, is the author of Living Apart Together: Legal Protections for a New Form of Family, released in December 2020 by NYU Press.

full size photo of Cynthia BowmanLiving Apart Together is an in-depth look at a new way of “doing family”―living apart together (LAT)―in which committed couples maintain separate residences and finances. In Bowman’s own 2016 national survey, 9 percent of respondents reported having this type of relationship, yet it has gone virtually unstudied in the United States.

Bowman kicked off the celebration with a brief overview of her book, which focuses on three key demographics―women, the elderly, and gay men. The chapter on the last group was written by Bowman’s research assistant, David Eichert ’20.

Bowman remarked that her insight about the “quiet revolution” of LAT arose as she began to research her next book, on socialist feminism. Through the lens of Marxist theory, she recognized that “LATs respond to a world in which labor is very mobile, the technology to control reproduction exists, women have entered the workplace in large numbers, and they demand equality both there and at home.”

Noting the injustices that LATs encounter when dealing with the U.S. family law system, Bowman proposes legal reforms that support the important caretaking functions of LATs and protect couples from being punished for choosing this lifestyle.

Providing guest commentary were Susan Frelich Appleton, the Lemma Barkeloo & Phoebe Couzins Professor of Law at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law; and Robin West, the Frederick J. Haas Professor of Law and Philosophy and associate dean at the Georgetown University Law Center.

Appleton examined the book through the framework of family, sex, and gender, posing questions along the way: “Do LATs expand family law, or, alternately, do they show us the need to reimagine the field more fundamentally?” Is platonic coparenting part of the LAT phenomenon? To what extent does the “ability to redo gender” within LATs have implications for gender in other relationships and arrangements? And finally, what has COVID meant for LATs?

West considered what defines LATs and where they fall on the legal spectrum from contract to status. Identifying partners’ commitment to caring for each other as a key theme, she suggested, “[I]t might behoove the state, through family law and contract law both, to recognize relationships of committed care as a core value―perhaps the core value―and then treat them accordingly.” She added, “Part of the value of Cynthia’s study . . . may be that she helps us to see that more clearly.”

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