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Legalized Friendships Grant Family-Style Rights

On Wednesday, I discussed collaborative divorce. The next trend, legalized friendships, should be of particular importance to older Americans. It was described this week in the Boston Globe as follows:

Now, a number of scholars are seeking to shore up granting it legal recognition. Some of the rights and privileges restricted to family, they argue, should be given to friends. These could be invoked on a case-by-case basis--eligibility to take time off to care for a sick friend under an equivalent of the Family and Medical Leave Act, for example. Or they could take the form of an official legal arrangement between two friends, designating a bundle of mutual rights and privileges... .

The Census Bureau reports 18 percent of married women are child free, and women on average outlive their husbands by several years. An elderly widow could take great comfort in the knowledge that a close, legally designated friend would administer her living will, if there were no blood relative to do so.

My father died surrounded by family two years ago in a New York hospice. But most of the near-death patients in that hospice had few or no visitors. I asked one of the nurses, "Why?" She responded that a surprising number of hospice patients die alone or receive rare visits by family members.

So many new cultural trends are unwelcome (I think of the rise in unwed motherhood and hypersexualized teenagers) that I was pleasantly surprised by the emergence of collaborative divorce and legalized friendships. Giving people more legal options to adapt to changing notions of "family" is a positive development and one we should all welcome.

Bonnie Erbe is taking time off and is temporarily untethered to the Internet. Her next blog entry will appear on Friday, June 20.

By Bonnie Erbe

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