70 Va. L. Rev. 879 (1984)
Rethinking Parenthood As an Exclusive Status: The Need for Legal Alternatives when the Premise of the Nuclear Family Has Failed

handle is hein.journals/valr70 and id is 889 raw text is: RETHINKING PARENTHOOD AS AN EXCLUSIVE STATUS:
THE NEED FOR LEGAL ALTERNATIVES WHEN THE
PREMISE OF THE NUCLEAR FAMILY HAS FAILED
Katharine T. Bartlett*
P ARENTHOOD, with few exceptions, is an exclusive status.
The law recognizes only one set of parents for a child at any
one time, and these parents are autonomous, possessing compre-
hensive privileges and duties that they share with no one else.
A fundamental premise of the law of exclusive parenthood is
that parents raise their own children in nuclear families. The nu-
clear family, which is the preferred social unit in our society, is
itself an exclusive unit, its membership reserved to a married
couple and their dependent children. Exclusivity gives the family
much of its moral power over the lives of its members, for it forges
in them   a sense of common destiny and mutual commitment.2 Pa-
* Associate Clinical Professor of Law, Duke University. I am grateful to Sara Beale,
Herma Hill Kay, David Lange, Millie Mishkin, Chris Schroeder, and Sally Sharp for their
comments on earlier drafts of this article. I thank also Amy Flick, Pamela Gerr, Lori Larson,
Mindy McNichols, Cindy Rerucha, Howard Vingan, and William Werner, law students at
Duke University who provided useful research assistance.
I The term nuclear family in this paper refers to the conjugal household consisting of a
husband, wife, and their dependent children. The term family has implied different living
arrangements throughout history and among different social classes. See P. Aries, Centuries
of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life (1962); J. Dempsey, The Family and Public
Policy 9-10 (1981); M. Glendon, The New Family and the New Property 11-17 (1981); M.
Poster, A Critical Theory of the Family 168-205 (1978); E. Shorter, The Making of the Mod-
em Family (1975); Gordon, Introduction, in The Nuclear Family in Crisis: The Search for
an Alternative 2-10 (M. Gordon ed. 1972); Laslett, The Family as a Public and Private
Institution, in Intimacy, Family, and Society 94-114 (A. Skolnick & J. Skolnick eds. 1974).
Nonetheless, the private, largely self-contained, marriage-centered nuclear family has been
the norm throughout most of American history.
s A. Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments 219-20 (D. Raphael & A. Macfie eds. 1976)
(1st ed. London 1759). R. Laing describes this mutual identification in terms of expectations
as well as sentiment-
The family is a common we, in contrast to them outside the family .... When I
identify myself as one of us, I expect you to do likewise. Then there are three, you
and he or she and me, each becomes one of us. In such a family we, each of us,
recognize(s) not only his or her own family synthesis, but expects a comparable fam-
ily synthesis to exist in you, him, or her also.
R. Laing, The Family and the 'Family,' in The Politics of the Family and Other Essays 3,4-

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