Saturday, February 2, 2013
Marian Robinson’s status as the live-in First Grandmother is an example of a growing trend in the United States - the multigenerational family. The 2010 United States Census Data reflects that the number of households with multiple generations living under one roof has increased by 25% this decade. Mrs. Robinson also reflects another new development in American families: grandparents helping their adult children with caregiving. More than 70% of grandparents are taking care of their grandkids on a regular basis, and 13% are primary caretakers. Many grandparents treat their role as caregiver like a profession, and they sacrifice jobs, residences, money, time, and part of their autonomy in order to ‘retribe’ their family. Often times, these grandparents are not as fortunate as Mrs. Robinson, and their selfless commitment to family not only reduces their current income, but also negatively affects their retirement funds and ability to care for themselves in the future. As the number of citizens over the age of sixty-five increases and the average age of grandparents decreases, these fundamental changes in the family caregiving network pose a threat to a significant portion of our population, particularly women, who make up the majority of grandparent caregivers.
The impact of this family evolution on the older generation has yet to be examined from a legal perspective that goes beyond the traditional spectrum of family law. This article fills a gap in the legal analysis of family law reform in that it focuses on two underdeveloped topics: grandparents who are an integral part of the family, and the impending crisis of a significant aging population. This Article explores how employment, tax, and housing laws discourage intergenerational caregiving. Although research shows that grandparent involvement in their grandchildren’s lives results in multiple positive outcomes, government support for the extended family network lags behind the social framework of today. This Article examines how other modern countries in Europe and Australia have adopted laws that reduce the economic strain of grandparent caregiving. It further argues that the transubstantive nature of family law requires advocacy for grandparents beyond custody and visitation rights. Expanding social welfare for grandparent caregivers will revise the concept of the system of laws that supports family care work and can reform the administration of federal, state, and local regulations governing work and family.