Roger writing the LAWmag
Jun 2013

Albert Einstein: Family Law Relativity

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) was a phenomenal Jewish physicist credited with several discoveries which revolutionized math, science, life, thoughts on God, you name it.

But in his personal life, his reluctant contacts with family law always left proof that this branch of the law, like his famous theory for the relationship between mass and energy, was relative.

He and his first wife Mileva Maric had a daughter born out of wedlock in about 1902 and the couple gave her up for adoption. Historians have never been able to determine what happened to this child but likely, out there, somewhere, is a very, very smart woman or man still trying to figure out the dead end in their family tree.

Starting with his special theory of relativity in 1905, Einstein published paper after paper that re-wrote physics.

But family troubles seemed to bring out the intellectual best in him. The year after his wife left him in Berlin (1914), and moved with their two younger children to the house of Fritz Haber, then back to Zurich, Albert Einstein shot to international fame upon the publication of his general theory of relativity.

Einstein and Mileva MaricHe seemed to goad Mileva  to her 1914 departure. As a condition of their short-lived final months of cohabitation as husband and wife in Berlin, Einstein had written out a long list of patronizing and impossible demands delivered to her their mutual friend, chemist Fritz Haber. The proposed cohabitation agreement sounded more like a declaration of marital war but, at first, was nonetheless accepted by his wife, desperate to save her marriage. Her are some of Einstein's demands

"You will renounce all personal relations with me insofar as they are not completely necessary for social reason.

"You will not expect any intimacy from me, nor will you reproach me in any way.

"You will stop talking to me if I request it.

"You will undertake not to belittle me in front of our children, either through words or behavior."

But on July 29, 1914, Einstein's family left him behind in Berlin once again, returning to Zurich by train. In the years that followed, Mileva Maric remained a faithful mother to her children, struggling on to the end as a single parent.

Eventually, the separation and her husband's notorious relationship with a first cousin broke her. She spent two years in an asylum while the boys were cared for not by their father, but by a maid.

Albert's Einstein most famous legal legacy was his unusual 1919 separation agreement with Mileva, in which he proposed a gamble. Just as the First World War had ended and Germany was in the throes of deflation, he wanted a divorce from Mileva so he could marry this first cousin (a now-prohibited degree of consanguinity). Mileva's consent to a divorce was finally bought-off with a substantial annual amount of spousal support and child support and ... Einstein’s promise to give to her, if he ever won it, the proceeds of the Nobel Prize, then about $35,000 US.

Mileva was reluctant to take this offer but after consulting with her lawyer, she agreed. The separation agreement was drafted by German lawyers and presented to the family court which, after taking Einstein’s admission of adultery, issued the divorce order in those terms.

In 1922, Maric collected as Einstein won the Nobel Prize in Physics but then reneged on the terms of the separation agreement by insisting that part of the money be frozen for their sons’ future use.

No sooner divorced from Mileva, Einstein married his widowed first cousin Elsa Lowenthal, born Elsa Einstein. They had no children together; Mr. Einstein insisted on separate bedrooms throughout much of their marriage.

But marriage never stopped Mr. Einstein from flirting. He was famously unfaithful. His mistresses included several of his personal secretaries and rich Berlin matrons.

"All marriages are dangerous. Marriage is the unsuccessful attempt to make something lasting out of an incident."

For all his brilliance, Albert Einstein could not understand the relativity of love and time, age, emotions and family law.

Einstein often accused his ex-wife of parental alienation. He deferred to Haber, to whom he wrote, in 1915:

"My fine boy has been alienated from me for a few years already by my wife, who has a vengeful disposition."


"The boy's soul is being systematically poisoned to make sure that he doesn't trust me."

In return, Maric demanded that he not expose his sons to Elsa.

Albert Einstein responded like a typical litigant in family court: he callously canceled or bargain access visits, sometimes directly with his sons, and always infuriating his ex-wife and his sons.

Albert EinsteinOn the day he announced his general theory of relativity to much reknown, he penned a letter to his son promising to visit every month, which he then reneged on.

Hans Albert Einstein Jr.’s replies are poignant. Caught in the middle, he wrote his famous father:

"Dear Papa, You should contact Mama about such things, because I'm not the only one to decide here."

As fellow scientists were calling his November 1915 paper entitled The Field Equations of Gravitation "the greatest feat of human thinking about nature", he received a letter from his son announcing that Maric had bought him ski equipment:

"The ski equipment costs about 70 francs, and Mama bought them for me on condition that you also contribute. I consider them a Christmas present."

Einstein was put off by the tone of the letter and took aim at his young son, canceled his Christmas access visits but paid the money for the equipment.

In 1933, Nazi Germany stripped all their Jewish citizens of German citizenship and Einstein fled to the Princeton University in the USA, with Elsa. Elsa died in Princeton in 1936.

Mileva did not fare as well. Her son Hans Albert followed his father to America and became a professor at the University of California.

But by 1939, the Einstein's youngest son was in an asylum, diagnosed with schizophrenia. The cost of medical care overwhelmed Mileva. Facing bankruptcy, she pleaded with her ex-husband and he did help, on conditions.

In his latter years, Einstein deplored that his theories had made atomic bombs possible. In one quote in which he may as well of been describing family law feuds, he wrote:

"I do not know how the third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourth — rocks!"

Long after the war was over, and even as Albert Einstein's health would of permitted it, his youngest son struggled in a Zurich asylum, never again visited by the great scientist, while Mileva visited as often as she could. Einstein offered lame excuses to any that inquired - usually his oldest son - for ignoring his institutionalized youngest son.

Mileva Maric died in 1955.

In 1955, Albert Einstein died in his sleep, at Princeton Hospital thus closing a needlessly bitter chapter in the life of the world's smartest man, with an asterix.


  • Isaacson, W., Einstein: His Life and Universe (New York: Simon and Shuster, 2007).
  • Time Magazine, The Intimate Life of Albert Einstein, July 6, 2006


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