Separating from Children

Carol Sanger, Columbia Law School


In this article I want to challenge the existing rules of maternal engagement and reconsider how we think about separations between mothers and their children as a matter of cultural inquiry and as a matter of law. Specifically, I examine the ways in which law regulates this complex but not uncommon aspect of motherhood and compare legal assessments about maternal decisions to separate from children with the judgments of mothers themselves. My argument is that the present scheme of regulation sustains social understandings regarding mother-child separations with little attention to the circumstances of mothers' lives that prompt their decisions to separate in the first place. Instead, maternal separations are quickly marked as evidence of self-interest and assumed antithetical to the welfare of children.