April 2008, Volume 94, Issue 2|
The Networked Family: Reframing the Legal Understanding of Caregiving and Caregivers
94 Va. L. Rev. 385 (2008)
Recent efforts to reconcile family law theory and doctrine with the lived experiences of families have focused narrowly on expanding the definition of the legal family to accommodate those in non-traditional family arrangements. By contrast, scant attention has been paid to the disjunction between law�s understanding of caregiving and how families actually function in providing care. Law understands caregiving to be the work of parents; accordingly, it creates two caregiving extremes � one is either a parent, with the rights and responsibilities of that status, or one is a legal stranger without any entitlements. In focusing on these two poles, law disregards the caregiving continuum that exists between them. This Article explores this interpolar space and the non-parental caregivers who occupy it. Intuitively, we recognize that there are caregivers who are neither parents, nor strangers; and empirical and sociological evidence makes clear that parents do not provide care autonomously, but rather, rely on networks of non-parental caregivers. Indeed, in other doctrinal areas, like sentencing and public assistance, law acknowledges these caregiving networks explicitly. This Article calls for a theory that expands the legal construction of caregiving to accommodate the way in which parents rely on caregiving networks comprised of non-parental caregivers. Recognizing these networks, it argues, would reconcile family law with the reality of family life, while furthering family law�s stated interest in enabling and facilitating caregiving within families.
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