The stereotypical American family is often seen as one man, one woman, and their child. However, this notion of the traditional family is changing. For centuries, familial matriarchs have assumed roles typically reserved for a child’s biological parents. Specifically, African American grandmothers, aunts, and other female figures have served as kinship caregivers for countless generations of children dating back to before the period of American slavery. These forgotten matriarchs, who often serve as the foundation of African American family units, have been historically abandoned by our universalist legal system that idolizes the nuclear concept of family and favors the retention of biological parents’ rights. Although legal avenues exist for these kinship caregivers to achieve rights comparable to that of a biological parent––for example, temporary or permanent guardianship––the procedural ambiguity and inaccessibility of these options make them unfeasible for many kinship family units.
This Note will explore Georgia’s current guardianship laws and how they restrict kinship caregivers’ access to financial and social resources due to their capricious adjudication and parental consent requirements. The Note suggests adopting a statute akin to New Jersey’s Kinship Guardianship Notification Act and reintroducing de facto parenthood (previously introduced in the Georgia Legislature as Georgia House Bill 321). The former focuses on informing kinship caregivers of how they may obtain social services from the State to support the child they are caring for, while the latter eliminates extensive petitioning and judicial loopholes for potential de facto custodians. In addition to these suggestions, this Note advocates for the fusion of Black feminist theory and legal theory by reframing the narrative of family from one rooted in the theoretical Anglo-American nuclear ideal to one that acknowledges the innate nuance of what constitutes family across all ethnicities and social groups.
Barnett, Destiny B.
"Safeguarding America’s “Unnatural” Guardians: How Georgia’s Legal Guardianship Statute Excludes “Atypical,” Matriarchal Familial Structures Rooted in Black Culture,"
Georgia Law Review: Vol. 57:
1, Article 10.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.uga.edu/glr/vol57/iss1/10