Vanderbilt Law Review

Article Title

Siblings in Law


Jill E. Hasday

First Page



Family law's intense concentration on marriage and parenthood has left little room for legal attention directed at any other family relationship. The breadth of this exclusion from family law's canon is enormous. Examining the legal treatment of one noncanonical family relationship, whose marginalization in family law is particularly remarkable, can provide a foundation for better understanding the consequences of family law's narrowness. The sibling relationship offers a striking illustration of a crucial, yet legally neglected, family tie. Siblings can give each other support, love, nurturing, and stability. But the law governing children's family relationships focuses almost exclusively on children's ties with their parents rather than children's ties with their siblings, making only modest, scattered, and unsystematic efforts to safeguard sibling relationships when they are in jeopardy. Siblings who have lived together for years are sometimes separated at adoption or parental divorce or death with no right to contact each other, communicate, or visit. Siblings who are separated early on may have no opportunity and no right even to learn of each other's existence. Nonetheless, sibling relationships have received amazingly little attention from courts, legislatures, and scholars. This Essay uses the example of sibling relationships to explore family law's treatment of noncanonical family ties and to consider some of the reform possibilities that emerge when we expand family law's focus beyond marriage and parenthood.

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Family Law Commons