In her provocative article The Networked Family: Reframing the Legal Understanding of Caregiving and Caregivers, Professor Melissa Murray offers a much-needed corrective to the view that families are “autonomous islands” and argues that the law should recognize the networks of care provided by nonparental caregivers. I wholeheartedly agree with Professor Murray that the law should support families in providing care. I am also deeply sympathetic to the claim that family law is overly reliant on binary opposites—here, the mutually exclusive categories of parent and legal stranger—that do not capture the complex reality of family life. And I applaud Professor Murray’s initiation of a conversation about these concerns.
To advance that conversation, I want to engage with a central aspect of Professor Murray’s argument: the nature of the recognition she argues that the law should provide for nonparental caregivers. Two basic paradigms seem likely. First, we might understand recognition to be simply cognizance of and greater attention to the care provided by nonparents. Once we recognize the network of caregivers, it may be possible for the law to support that network in a variety of ways. By contrast, we might understand recognition to mean direct legal protection of the relationship between a nonparental caregiver and a family.