Kinship caregivers-a group disproportionately populated by persons of color, particularly black grandmothers -have historically assumed parental roles, often together with a legal parent. Yet even as kin have increasingly assumed substantial parental responsibilities over the past few decades, they continue to have limited opportunities to carry the title of legal parent. At the same time, in claims involving stepfamilies and same-sex partners of parents, and cases involving assisted reproductive technology (ART), family courts have expanded their definition of parenthood to recognize the rights of other caregivers, including those whose parental claims extend beyond the so-called “rule of two.” The common element that these groups share is a conjugal tie with the legal parent. The differential treatment of kinship caregivers demonstrates that the concept of parenthood remains inextricably intertwined with the concept of conjugality -whether through legal marriage, quasi-marriage, or the mere capacity to marry or engage in prescribed mating. By privileging conjugal ties, the current framing of the parenthood debate excludes nonconjugal actors, most notably relative or kinship caregivers, from consideration as legal co-parents and from the accompanying discourse around multiple parentage. This article explores parental claims both within and outside of the scope of conjugality. In doing so, it reveals that, while the discourse on expanded notions of parenthood remains marriage-centered, the underlying rationales for extending parental assignment within conjugal relationships apply with equal force to nonconjugal kinship caregiving. Ultimately, it aims to enlarge the space within the community of “legitimate” parents to include kinship caregivers.
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