Book Review: LGBTQ Divorce and Relationship Dissolution: Psychological and Legal Perspectives and Implications for Practice
Citation: Edited by Abbie E. Goldberg & Adam P. Romero, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018, 480 pp.
LGBTQ Divorce and Relationship Dissolution: Psychological and Legal Perspectives and Implications for Practice was written for scholars, students and practicing professionals in both the legal and mental health fields. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first book to address this complex, interdisciplinary topic in such a comprehensive manner. The publication is quite timely given that researchers and clinicians alike are only recently beginning to understand the significant and often complicated implications and impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which overrode all state-level marriage bans and provided equal access to marriage and divorce for all couples, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The book’s 22 chapters are organized into four parts: (I) same-sex couples’ relationship well-being, dissolution and divorce, (II) navigating relationship dissolution and divorce as a family with children, (III) relationship dissolution and divorce for transgender and gender variant individuals and (IV) a collection of chapters categorized as “perspectives on gender, heteronormativity, monogamy and marriage” (p. 347). The fourth part is largely superfluous, adding little to the value and usefulness of the book.
Each chapter concludes with a list of discussion questions and additional resources which make the text a potentially valuable tool for teaching or professional continuing education. While the chapters are well integrated, and cross-reference each other, each chapter stands alone. Therefore, the text could conceivably serve as a reference book useful for working professionals who may find it helpful to read only chapters or sections relevant to a specific legal or psychological issue they are seeking to better understand or address in treatment.
For those interested in adding to the limited existing research on the topics addressed in this book, the editors and authors include detailed recommendations for researchers about the qualitative and quantitative data still needed to better understand these topics and improve legal and mental health professionals' ability to support LGBTQ persons dissolving their relationships.
Given the title of and topics addressed in this book it is not surprising that the editors are a psychologist (Goldberg) and a lawyer (Romero). I was impressed by how skillfully they integrated contributions from practitioners and scholars of psychology, sociology, law and political science, in a way that is accessible to readers from other disciplines, demonstrating the importance of a multidisciplinary understanding and approach to helping LGBTQ people navigate the ending of their relationships. Nowhere is this more clear than in the section addressing the specific challenges faced by transgender and gender variant individuals facing such a struggle.
Research has shown that when working with a transgender or gender variant client in psychotherapy, therapists are often tasked with working with professionals outside of the mental health field (Singh & dickey, 2017). Many publications on the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration primarily focus on the working relationships among and between mental and medical health professionals. However, there is a possibility therapists could be asked to communicate or coordinate with a transgender client’s legal team. Therefore, as a psychotherapist who regularly works with transgender and gender variant clients, I found the sections of the text written by and for legal professionals to be not only interesting but clinically relevant and useful. Such knowledge could potentially help psychotherapists anticipate and navigate issues which may arise when working with a transgender or gender variant client in psychotherapy as they consider or pursue relationship dissolution or disputes regarding child custody. Specifically, after reading this book, I feel better prepared to support my clients as they advocate for themselves with their lawyers and in the judicial system at large, because as Shannon Price Minter writes in chapter 16, “lawyers representing transgender spouses in divorce and custody cases must be prepared to confront systemic judicial bias against their client” (p. 312).
The editors and authors tackled tough topics often neglected or glossed over in publications focused on heterosexual relationship dissolution and divorce. Specifically addressed are the legal and psychological challenges for binational families, bereaved spouses and multiple parent families (e.g. second parent and stepparent adoption, families utilizing surrogacy and/or assisted reproductive technology, polyamorous relationships and other complex arrangements).
Though some may be critical of the breadth of information the editors chose to include in this publication, others may consider this a strength. In addition to statistics, theories, clinical and legal case examples and practical suggestions for professionals one might expect to find in a traditional textbook, interspersed throughout this text are chapters written in first person narrative by individuals who have personally experienced challenges related to the breakup of their families. The editors directly address this intentional editorial decision in the introduction of the book, writing: “The privileging of multiple forms of knowledge and understanding — empirical, theoretical, personal, for example — represents a strength and innovative feature of this volume” (p. 4). While I personally appreciated the less academically oriented chapters, it could be argued that the editors may have tried to include too much in this book, thus limiting the book’s readability and usefulness for some readers.