Must Every Child Have A Father?

I may come to regret the title of this post, as it could be seen as a wee bit inflammatory, but perhaps it got your attention.   I want to pick up on the discussion on my last post about surrogacy.    I’d like to try coming at this from a different direction.  

I’ve consistently (I hope) argued against using genetic linkage as the determinate of who gets recognized as a parent.   In that last post, I pointed out that if one takes this view, then one (in this case, me) ought not to distinguish between gestational surrogacy and traditional surrogacy.   After all, the thing that defines the difference between them is the presence (in the latter case) or absence (in the former case) of a genetic connection between the surrogate (the pregnant woman) and the fetus.   If the genetic linkage is irrelevant to parental status, then the two practices should be seen as essentially similar.  

I think the question of giving weight to the genetic linkage can be viewed as a feminist issue, though I acknowledge the breadth of feminist views and hardly think that all who identify with feminists would agree with me.     But I don’t think being feminist means being anti-male, anti-father or anti-child and I don’t think I am any of those things.   I thought I’d take a little time to lay this out more fully than I did in the replies to the last post.    

I have no argument with science–every child is created using genetic material that comes from a man as well as genetic material that comes from a woman.   So if the mere fact of genetic linkage gives one the entitlement to claim parental rights, then every child has a legal father.   

This does not mean the child has a social father, of course.  It doesn’t ensure there is a man to play any particular role in the child’s life.  It simply means that there is a man with legal rights.  

It’s obvious those legal rights give that man power over the child.  It is perhaps less obvious, but equally true that parental rights also give that man power over any other legal parent, which is typically to say they give him  power over the mother.     

Of course there are countless situations in which it is perfectly appropriate to give a man who has a genetic relationship with a child recognition as the child’s legal parent.   I would never suggest otherwise.   I would not disqualify a man from parenthood because he was genetically related to the child.  

But I also would not give him legal authority over the child and, practically speaking, over the mother, based merely on the genetic connection.    That’s giving too much in exchange for too little.  

I don’t think this is bad for or disrespectful of men.  Men can be terrific and sustaining parents–not by giving up some gametes, but by giving fully of themselves.   I think we sell men short–and we sell children short—when we say that all it takes to be a father is showing a DNA test.  

For those who object, I want to ask a different question:  must all children have a legal (or a social) father?   And if the answer is yes, then why? 

I suspect one answer that I might get is that because it is in the nature of things.    I’d like to push on that a bit.  Granted it is in the nature of things that there needs to be a biological father. (That’s for Kisarita–I’m trying out the terminology).   But must that same man have either a legal or a social role?  Why?  

On one level it seems to me that it is obvious that he need not be.   I know of a number of fine families where the man with the genetic link is not a legal or a social father.  So apparently he isn’t actually necessary as social father or legal father.   

But beyond that admittedly anecdotal evidence, thinking generally–what is it that he alone can do or that he can do better than anyone else?  

It’s true that making the biological father the legal father ensures that all children have legal fathers, although sometimes we might not be able to find them.   Is that enough of a reason to attach such a substantial and important role on such a minimal basis?   Which brings me to the question:  Must all children have a legal father?

I realize there are other questions to ask.   For example-does there need to be any man involved?   Must every child have a mother?   Must every child has some parent?   Maybe I’ll take on some of those.  But you have to start somewhere.


69 responses to “Must Every Child Have A Father?

  1. Thanks for your consideration.

    We have discussed this in a similar post entitled “Do all children need fathers” and I ranted enough over there.

    One thing that baffles me, however, is your claim that if genetics makes a father, it automatically gives him power over the child’s mother??? How so? Doesn’t she have a genetic connection as well?

    In fact, the divorced fathers I know consistently claim they are being discriminated against by the courts who view them more as check-writers than relationships. (Naturally these are not the most objective people, we must take it with a grain of salt, but the perception exist and is out there)

    And on whether this is a feminist issue, I wouldn’t quite call it that. For decades women have been trying to get men to pull their weight in their domestic responsibilities, from birth control to diaper changing to PTA. Making fatherhood a choice instead of an obligations undermines all those efforts.

    Note that no one is saying that a derelict father should have any sort of rights at all.

    • The genetic link is a feminist issue. Saying that the genetics is what determines parentage means that the role of parent is assigned when the child is born. You say that a derelict father shouldn’t necessarily have rights, but how can yous say when the child is born whether or not a father will be derelict? He’s already been given the title of father, he therefore has the rights as well. Parenthood is a choice, not an obligation- for mothers and fathers. Especially now, when we have such great medical technology, there’s precious little reason that a child should be unplanned or unwanted.

      • If parenthood was not assigned based upon a maternal and paternal genetic relatedness at birth then every child born to an unwed mother would not have a father listed on the birth certificate unless the man signed a voluntary admission of paternity. It would set women and children backwards 30 years. Children of unwed mothers would have no financial support from their fathers. The State has a vital interest in obligating men and women to care for and financially support their offspring lest the burden fall on the State. The state will find men that the women could not find on their own, it will order them to take a DNA test and support children proven to be theirs. While many unmarried men might want to shirk their responsibilities many unmarried men will be glad the State found them and notified them and will be willing to support their offspring and their families will want to bring the child into their family as well. As much as its an obligation to care for our offspring its also our right to know them and be involved with them and to have some say in how they are raised.
        While the senario you like may work when sperm donors are used because the man clearly wanted to be anonymous it poses a risk to the rights of unmarried men and now women who would want to know if a genetic reproduction of them had been born and would be horrified at the thought of having that information withheld from them because someone else wanted to keep their child away from them. A woman who has her own embryos in deep freeze can come to learn that one was mistakenly implanted into another customer of the clinic or was implanted into the womb of her ex husband’s new wife what if the court told her she could not be named as the mother of her own child at at minimum share custody with the other genetic parent?
        You have to give the person that provides support parental rights over the child and they have to be able to claim the child as their dependant on their taxes. There may be a step parent helping to raise the child but they should not be able to call themselves a parent just because they wish they were.
        People who use ART could still get what they want by getting the biological parents to relinquish their rights in court and then nobody could ever challenge their custody or court approved parenthood. Wouldnt you feel awfle if you knew that you had hidden the birth of someones child so that you could call yourself a parent? Women who want to raise children without male interference can do it if the man gives the child up for adoption. I understand this poses a problem for women who are lesbians in a state that denies marriages but the potential to deny men rights to their children or children the right to support in non ART situations is far too great. You must see that. You must be sympathetic to the fact that you cannot just erase the existence of the male.

      • Lisa, Since the subject is ART where most often the father remains anonymous, I feel it safe to categorize him as a derelict father from the get go.

        If the father’s identity is acknowledged by the mother from the start (and not contested) then yes, he will have rights from the start. Note that the power to acknowledge him or not is the mother’s.

        If he is not acknowledged but brings a claim to court, his behavior up to that point must be evaluated.

        A mother still has the ability never to inform the man of her pregnancy (although the vast majority of mothers do) and I for one do not suggest that right be curtailed as it might prevent women from acting in the interests of theirs and their child’s safety, if he is a dangerous man like a rapist or something.

        • Kisarita- the man needs to be informed, if she has an order of protection against him it may mean that he needs to have supervised visitation or no visitation at all but it does not mean that his check should not be garnished in support of the child. It really is not up to the mother to opt out of obtaining financial support from the father for the child. I heard of a case recently where an adult daughter was suing her father for back child support even though the mother told him he did not have to pay. While I don’t think its particularily fair for the dad, because its lots easier to pay a couple hundred a month over 18 years than a giant lump sum, but it turns out the mother had no right to waive the child’s right to financial support. The money was not hears to waive. Also the child may have brothers and sisters aunts uncles cousins and grandparents to know if for no other reason than to avoid dating them and also hopefully for some kind of relationship. If the guy is in jail for being a terrible guy OK but generally I do not think the woman has a right to simply withhold information because she does not want him around his offspring, its not fair they are equally related to that child, he has rights and the mother does not have to like him.

          • No woman should ever be compelled to have anything to do with a rapist.

            The child can decide when it grows up.

            • Regarding Julie’s case about the belated child support, I understand Julie’s analysis as such:

              A parent actually DOES have the right to waive child support from the other parent (it’s done all the time).

              They lost because they never actually waived the support, they just lied about him not being a father.

        • I think this comment (which I generally agree with) demonstrates that it is very hard to construct parentage law so that men and women are treated the same. Women are necessarily there to give birth. Granted in surrogacy in some states the woman who gives birth is not registered as the mother, but those cases remain a very small fraction of all the births that occur. Generally, there’s just no doubt of who a child’s mother is at the moment the child is born. She has to be there, just as she has to have been there for something like 40 weeks.

          But assigning fatherhood is and always has been more complicated. And asking the mother to identify the father (or possible fathers) certainly is one simple way of proceeding. That means the mother has power to name or not name particular men.

          I hope I’ve been clear that in general I favor candor and honesty and that’s true here, too. But as Kisarita says, there are instances where I think lack of candor is justified by concerns about safety.

          In our effort to make sure that someone is on the hook for child support (and to be fair, I think the concerns about the cost of children drive a lot of our public policy. This is not the same as being concerned about the welfare of children) there are procedures in every state for a man to execute an affidavit of paternity at the time of the birth of a child. I believe the mother must co-sign the document (though I cannot quite recall for sure), and of course, if he does not know she’s pregnant or does not know where she is, he won’t be around to do this.

    • To be fair, I should say that each parent has power over the child, and through that power, power over the other parent. Here’s a scenario that shows what I mean: Child has two parents. They split. Child lives with one, but both retains rights. Now one with child wants to move to a different city–for better job, to be close to aging relative, whatever. Chances are that the other one can object and perhaps even prevent move–unless one who wants to move gives up kid. Note that if the one who does not have time with kid wants to move, that person is free to do so.

      This scenario can run either way–could be woman with custody and man not or vice versa (assuming male/female legal parents). But the reality is that it is far more frequently a woman with custody (and we can discuss why of course.) Which means there’s a string of relocation cases from many places with men exerting control over women. I’ve never seen a relocation case with a woman exerting control over a man.

      But I do take your larger point–all of this does work both ways. And perhaps there is an exchange that must be made if one wants to have men more involved in child care, which I do think would be a good thing.

      • But Julie are those not kind of the breaks when two people have a child together? Two lesbian parents could break up and that kind of relocation case can and does happen to them as well. Do you know why? Because the non-custodial parent’s heart is breaking they don’t want what little time they do have with their child (biological social legal hatched) to be diminished. They are going to miss their baby they are trying to stop the relocation to keep their child near and I would say that they both have an obligation to stick close to home base and then if they absolutely must relocate then they will probably have to hammer out the details in court. The idea of having my time with my child cut in half terrifies me, I can only immagine if it was already at 50% or 40% and then was proposed to be cut further. I feel for those men and women in those cases.

        • Relocation cases are very difficult. The custodial parent (if I may call the person that) may have valid reasons for moving and the non-custodial parent may have excellent reasons for opposing the move. While modern transportation and communication technologies provide some ways that a non-local parent can stay involved in the child’s life, especially with young children, the distance away is may be unbridgeable.

          I don’t pretend to know how to resolve these cases, and I recognize that they can be heartbreakingly difficult. But it is a problem caused by there being two recognized legal parents.

          One solution is to tell the custodial parent that he/she cannot move. You don’t see the same restrictions placed on the non-custodial parent. He/she can move freely. And as it happens (we could have a long discussion about why) far more custodial parents are women than are men. Thus, the relocation cases as a whole illustrate a problem of men with control over women where women have no corresponding control over the men.

          Perhaps this is a digression. Let me try to get closer to an answer: I’m not suggesting there is any way to make the relocation problem go away where there are two involved-but-no-longer-together parents. But it illustrates why I think we should be cautious in handing out parental rights, and in particular why handing out parental rights to men may have consequences for women.

          I would not advocate for a different standard for lesbians or anyone else. It’s not that I think it is okay for women to have power over other women but not men to have power over women.

          • Marilynn Huff

            If you are going to take this position that the law should not grant men parental rights on the basis of paternity lest they wish to be involved in the lives of their children – you might want to rethink your defacto parent position which scares the hell out of me. Its far more dangerous to think that a room-mate or ex-boyfriend or step-father might win the right to be the legal parent if the woman wants to sever the relationship. Frankly I find the idea profoundly disturbing regardless of gender and I think gender is a non issue. I think a person has a right to to be involved with a genetic reproduction of themselves whether or not they are able to get along with the the other parent. Far worse to think that someone who did not put in on the kid would try to run ramshot over the mother.

            • I’m not sure I understand your first sentence–I have no objection to men being involved in the lives of their children–I think it’s a great thing. What we disagree on (as I understand it) is when a child is a particular man’s child. You’d say it is his child when the genetics match. I’d insist on something else–performance. I know I’ve said it before, but I think allowing a person to claim a child as “his” or “hers” simply because the genes match just seems way to easy to me–surely we ought to expect something more of people.

              And perhaps this view–that being a parent means a lot–explains why I’m not so worried about the ex-roommates or the boyfriends or whatever. It’s not simply that they were around the child that might give them rights–its the role they play. My kids are surrounded by adults who are important to them who couldn’t possibly claim to be parents or parent-like. That’s because I think being a parent is a pretty serious commitment. Roommates don’t make that commitment and many boyfriends/girlfriends don’t make it either.

              On the other hand if a person has made that commitment and has established a relationship with the child that is based on that commitment, I think that relationship ought to be entitled to some legal respect. I think this because I think disrupting these relationships will harm the child.

              I think that only in rare cases would a relationship like that be established without the consent of and even the participation of another legal parent, so I’m not particularly worried about the rights of the existing parent. She/he can say yea or nay at the beginning. But again, once you allow the relationship to be formed, then I think we need to be concerned about the importance of the relationship to the child.

  2. This deals more with the corollary question: Must every child have a mother?

    I have the same conflicted feelings about surrogacy, especially having been an OB nurse for over a decade. I know how new mothers and newborns are biologically hardwired to bond with each other, and a surrogates body reacts the same way. I know the sense of parenthood the nine months of being one body create, (Yes there are some exceptions…)
    And I agree that at the time of birth, the mother is much more of a parent than the father. (But that’s at the time of the birth. By the time the kid is a toddler the edge is gone. Which is also partly the reason why I give genetics precedence- genes are there forever.)
    Yet the research that points to the largely positive experiences of surrogates has led me to challenge the importance of that biological bond. (Although I suspect that perhaps some of these surrogates sublimated their maternal love by directing it towards their clients).

    But in a sense, there is something sad about a child born to a paid surrogate. In a sense that child is an orphan. It has no mother in its infancy, only two fathers. One male, and one female, but both are in essence, fathers.

    How does that child feel when it grows up? I haven’t seen any research so I guess we can’t know. But the myth of mother love is universal, and while mythical, it is not entirely groundless. How does that child feel knowing it was deprived of that? Or perhaps they don’t know and don’t care.

    • Kisarita normally I agree with everything you say but to say that a child born to a surrogate has two fathers I take exception to that. If I could conceive but not carry my child, and I hired a surrogate to deliver my baby for me would it make me any less of a mother? Motherhood takes place after the child is born not durring pregnancy when you are an expectant mother. As the female that conceived I’m the mother even though I did not give birth. If I am a female and that is my offspring and there is a maternal genetic link – I’m the mom and the guy with the paternal link thats the dad. The interesting thing about surrogacy is that it levels the playing field in that men are just as related to their offspring as women despite doing none of the work of pregnancy – and now we come to see that infact it does not mater if the woman does none of the work of pregnancy, it does not undermine the extent to which the child is a unique reproduction of her, pregnancy is largely irrelevant. Which makes me think I am not a religious person but if I did not know better I’d think someone was keeping damn good track of exactly who we belong to and who belongs to us if the code does not change even if you put the baby into the belly of a different woman. If they came up with artificial wombs the code would not change. Which has nothing to do with law but its fascinating anyway.

    • Surrogacy has led me kicking and screaming to change my view of parenthood in favor of the genetic aspect.

      During my years as an OB nurse seeing hundreds of pregnant women in that unique expectant state- (not universal but clearly the norm) I felt , like Julie, that nothing a man could do to equal that bond.

      But clearly I was wrong.

      That does not mean surrogacy is a good thing. I do not believe it is something we should be encouraging.

      • The first point–the one about how surrogacy has lead you to change your view–is important to me. I think this illustrates the way that thinking about one form of parenthood can influence views about other forms of parenthood, in a general sort of way. It’s why I think one has to keep many variations in mind and reconsider views regularly.

        More specifically, though, I’m not sure what lead you to the conclusion that you were wrong about the conclusions you reached because of your experience as an OB nurse. Can you elaborate?

        • Seeing that women not on drugs, not in any sort of desperate situation, could calmly hand over a baby that they had just birthed, feeling no sense of connection to it, and feel no sense of loss, and no regrets years later.

          • Ah–thanks.

            But just because some women have not bonded with the children they have given birth to does not mean that all of them haven’t. And I would imagine that many (most) of the women you saw do this weren’t gestational surrogates. I’d say that this shows that some women really can be surrogates–can follow through. And that the determining factor isn’t the genetic link.

            Were the women who calmly handed over the babies women who had planned to do that? If so, this might suggest (though it hardly proves) that having a clear sense of your plan in advance helps shape the attachment, which again is an argument that surrogacy can work.

            I’m not a huge fan of surrogacy–I hope I’ve said that before. But the information you offer actually makes it sound more palatable to me.

            • I am afraid my comment was unclear. I didn’t mean that I had seen the surrogates personally, in fact I have never cared for a woman who was a surrogate (that told me.) I meant that I had seen the research.


              • My turn to apologize–I think I understood that, but I see now that I wasn’t clear either. Oh well.

                Perhaps my larger point (which I think might actually be uncontroversial) is that women vary. Some feel an intense bond with the child when it is born. Some do not. Some women who might ordinarily be in the first group would move to the second if they were not genetically related to the fetus. Some who might ordinarily be in the first group might move to the second if they set out, from the beginning, to have the child for someone else.

                It’s the last and first mentioned women who will make the most successful surrogates. I have no idea whether there is any way for an outsider to predict which group any individual woman will fall into, but I think it is quite possible that women know themselves well enough to know this. I suspect intelligent counselling can be helpful, too.

    • marilynn huff

      Kisarita I remember not bonding AT ALL with my daughter when she was born. I looked at my husband the day I was to be released and said “They’re just going to let us leave with her? Just like that? ‘Here’s your kid-good luck?” So I don’t think mother’s are hardwired to bond with their babies from pregnancy AT ALL. I think we are hardwired to bond genetically moreso.

      • Why do you think we are hardwired to bond genetically? What evidence supports this? Clearly some people do and some people do not. And from an evolutionary biology point of view, men should want to impregate as many women as possible and then let other people raise them–bonding would be most inconvenient. I’m not saying I buy this, but that is the argument.

  3. Here is the pevious post: Downgrading Fathers

    I am not literally saying that we should actually use the term “father” for a woman, as the words mother and father are tied to the gender of the parent by definition.

    I am just pointing out that their biological role during the neonatal period is the same.

    • What do you mean “their biological role is the same”?Because the female parent is not lactating? What about formula-fed infants- do they functionally have two fathers as well? And no, bonding is not hard-wired. The mother-child relationship is a relationship and takes time to build, just like any other relationship.

      • on oxytocin and bonding- and I’m sure if you do your own search you will come up with many more.

        Now hormones aren’t everything, especially in such a complex animal as the human. If Pavlov could get his dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell, we humans can certainly induce- or suppress- the rush of love juices coursing through our blood by our cognitive processes- including the expectation of parenthood, (or when speaking of surrogates, the expectation NOT to parent).

        But the chemistry is real.

    • Indeed it is. And that does make one think….

      I have to get back to the longer comments I’ve skipped when I have more time.

  4. KateSchosboek

    Just thought you would find this interesting- it is a report from the UK which says that fetuses cant feel pain before 24 weeks there is some really interesting debate in the article-

  5. marilynn huff

    Julie I get your angle now. You want two women to be legally able to be the first and only people named as a child’s parents at birth. You don’t want there to be a transfer of rights from biologically related persons to nonbiologically related persons handled in court in the public domain on the record. You are basing the okness of this on the way it use to be before dna testing. Children of unmarried women did not use to have fathers listed on their birth certificates because it could not be proven that the child was his – he’d have to sign a voluntary admission of paternity if he could be found it was hardly worth the search. Law could not compel a man to support a child unless he admitted it was his and honestly how would he know. And the only fathers were husbands and who knew if they were biologically related either? It did not matter because they signed up for it. You like this because if a biolgically unrelated husband can be the legal father why not a biologically unrelated same sex partner.

    OK I get your angle – you want to go back in time to when children of unmarried women were illigitimate and had no fathers because women could raise them free of male interference. How dare you AND I MEAN HOW DARE YOU say that that is a feminst position! The majority of children born to unwed women are able to be kept by those women today because of DNA testing and the ability to obligate those men to support their offspring. States have a vested interest in having children supported by the people that conceive them and so many children are able to be brought into the fold of their fathers families because many women could not even locate the fathers of their children without the states help. Yes, it means that those men have some say so in how their children are raised, but finding the fathers and obligating them to support their offspring means thousands of children stayed with mothers who did not want to give them up for adoption. DNA testing has forced men to be accountable for their actions it has destigmatized “unwed mothers” into single mothers, children now have fathers on their birth certificates. Its good for women and children in general – really. I live in San Francisco work with and hang out with families headed by two lesbians – yes, here they are legally married but that was not always the case. I am all for gay marriage, and all for women raising children together but having children is not a right. You either have them biologically or you don’t. Women don’t have a right to block men from taking responsibility for their offspring – thats just wrong. Men that really do want to be involved with their kids and not have them moved across the country. I want to split from my own husband and I wont be able to move closer to my mother – that sucks for me but guess what? Being that far from her dad would be bad for my daughter.
    There must be another way to accomplish the goal of same sex families. Really what you are suggesting would compromise the financial support of children of single mothers every where and good grief how could that possibly be the feminist stance. I really think that the only way is to make Lesbian marriage allowed nationally so that the step-parent can adopt the child from its father. That is very above board and consistent with law and it does not step on the rights of men that want to be involved with their kids, surely you dont want to stop men who do want to be involved with their kids from doing so just so that two women can be the parents?

    Maybe I misunderstood I’m sorry to be so harsh. I’m very confused as to how going backwards to illigitimate children days is good for women.

    • Let me say at the top that I have no intention of advocating for a return to the days of illegitmate children. I’m trying to figure out how to explain what is wrong with your characterization of my views.

      I think a child born to a married couple should be treated the same as a child born to an unmarried couple. It makes no sense to me that legal recognition of the relationship between the adults should determine the status of the relationship to the child. So I would treat an unmarried partner sort of person (not a legal domestic partner—but a partner in a more common sense) as I would treat a spouse or a formal domestic partner.

      One of the starkest cases involving the rights of illegitimate children was Stanley v. Illinois. Peter (I think that was his name) and Joan Stanley had kids and raised them together for years. They never married. She died. Under the existing law of Illinois, he was not a parent of the children because they were not married. Thus, the kids were wards of the state. The US Supreme Court rejected this outcome. I think they got it right. It’s absurd to me to say he was a father if he was married but was not a father if he was not married. The case was not about DNA–there had been no DNA tests. And I really don’t care about the DNA. He should have been recognized as a father, as a married man would have been and I think as a woman in a similiar position should have been now.

      I assume you are not thinking of these cases, where my view clearly would not take us back to the days of illegitimate children. You’re thinking of cases where there is no “we.” A woman is pregnant and there is no other person who wishes to be a parent along side her (assuming of course that she wants to be a parent.)

      In that circumstance DNA does allow us to identify one man out there and put him on the hook for child support. But keep in mind, this is in a situation where the man and woman do not want to parent together. (Situations where they parent together would be treated by my analysis above.) Maybe the DNA guy should be on the hook for child-support. I see that as an independent question of whether he should have the rights to decide about what is better for the child. I don’t think it is (generally) in the child’s interest to have two legal parents who have no real relationship with each other and don’t want to. Should the child know who he is? Perhaps. But that too is a different question.

      If your main concern is about supporting single mothers, then I think I would take a much broader approach to a solution–we ought to support people raising children generally. I know that idealistic and unrealistic, but we’re talking theoretically here.

      I am not afraid of creating single-parent families. I think there are instances where single parent families are better than the two parent families we would be constructing if we went with the DNA. But I don’t think this leaves me in a position anything like the days of illegitimate children.

  6. I am not a fan of creating single parent families as the data is overwhelming that children growing up in that family structure do not do as well as those in two parent families. Yes, there are exceptions and I will give you that but generally, (and I know you know this) it is a bad idea on many levels. I understand that 40% of children born last year were to single moms but we also know that many of them were living with the fathers/partners so I have difficulty with that statistic.

    • Lumping single parent families into a single group is quite tricky and can lead, I think, to overbroad conclusions. As you note, single parents (or single mothers?) often includes people who are not married but also are not single. Thus many two parent families show up in at least some of the data as single parents. That would seem to me to muddy analysis.

      But even beyond that, there are planned single parent families and there are unplanned single parent families. From the data I’ve seen, it’s pretty clear that women (and I’ve only seen data for single mother families) who plan to become single parents do substantially better than women who end up as single parent families when that’s not what they wanted. Even in that group, I suspect there are at least three different kinds of single mother families–women who had children outside of any stable relationship without that being part of a plan, women who had children within a seemingly stable relationship that then dissolved and the man involved departed, and women who had children in a relationship where the man then died. Families in each of these groups are going to look like single parent families, but they are also quite different, and I believe you can see any number of statistical differences in outcomes, etc.

      All of which is to say, that I, too have difficulty with the statistics, but this leads me to reject the general proposition that children growing up in single parent families do not do as well. I think the statement would have to be much more refined and even then, it would raise the “why” question for me. (I would guess that in part the answer to why some single parent famlies do not do as well has to do with poverty.)

  7. I’ve consistently (I hope) argued against using genetic linkage as the determinate of who gets recognized as a parent.

    Again with the strawman. No one is saying that it should be “determinate” of custody or legal guardianship, which is how you use the word “parent”, right?

    Progenitors should be recorded on the birth certificate, and they should each have the first responsibility to be legal and social guardians of their progeny. But they can lose that responsibility, and their kids can wind up with any number of different legal and social guardians.

    • I did not mean to set up a straw man. Some people have argued here that genetic should be the first determinate of legal parentage, though perhaps you are not among them.

      I see two separate points in the last paragraph. I might agree that progenitors should be recorded somewhere, but it seems to me odd to do it on a document called a birth certificate. There have been many discussion here about “honesty” of birth certificates and it seems somewhat dishonest that a birth certificate would not record the name of the woman who actually gave birth.

      But you go on to say that the progenitors would have first responsiblity to be legal and social guardians. That, it seems to me, is exactly the point you disclaimed in the second paragraph. Maybe I am not understanding but I read that to say that in the event of a dispute, the first claim to be legal parents (that’s what you maen by legal guardians, isn’t it?) goes to the genetically related? This I disagree with.

      • No one has said progenitors must be declared legal guardians or be the social parents, not me or anyone.

        I guess that’s a good point, the birth certificate should also include the birth mother, and the doctor, and hospital, and date and time of birth, in addition to progenitors (“mother” and “father”). However, being a birth mother should not be ‘determinant’ of legal custody either.

        Now you are bringing in the qualifier “first” determinant. Do you mean, absent any legal proceedings and documents, who should the baby go home with, and who should have legal custody? The birth mother. If she’s married, her husband too. Any issues that come up all get resolved in courts according to the best interest of the child.

        I do think that eventually we should have mandatory DNA testing to confirm that the mother and father listed on the birth certificate are indeed the genetic progenitors. If no match is found, the spaces should be marked “unknown”. But regardless of that, the birth mother gets custody, unless she was a legal surrogate or unfit or chooses to give the baby up for adoption.

        • I did. I said that the proginators should always and only be the people named mother and father at birth and the only people with parental power over their child unless and until they give the child up for adoption AFTER the child is born.
          I agree that there should be manditory DNA tests and that if you are a woman who gives birth and you are found to not be related to the child – you don’t get to take that kid home until the state locates the progenitors and then if the progenitors want to give the child up for adoption to the woman that gave birth they can.
          The idea that the woman who gave birth is automatically the mother is an antiquated concept that ignores the reality of ART. There are women who pay to have embryos of other women implanted in their wombs so that they can pretend to be related to the child and those women need to get soundly busted out on their lies. If they used an egg vendor the line for mother on the birth certificate ought to say the clinic name and vendor ID number at the very least and the vendor should have to give the child up for adoption in court. While we are at it why do people who use ART not have to go thru home study and adoption, because they can afford the money it costs to get someone elses child before its born? The pregnant woman may not know that she was in fact implanted with the embryo of a woman who was a another paying coustomer at the clinic. What if the woman who gives birth is notified that the real parents want their kid back after she brings the baby home from the hospital. They’ve tried so hard to conceive, for her to keep their baby would be kidnapping. How awfle it would be for them to have struggled with infertility and know that some stranger was raising their child and there was nothing they could do about it because she happend to give birth. Surrogacy is at best a questionable practice because you are not allowed to give your own child up for adoption before its born and you certainly are not allowed to take money for your own child the only way surrogacy makes legal sense is if its not the child of the woman giving birth if she has no legal parental rights over the child because it is related to somebody else.
          People should absolutely have the right to raise their own offspring to adulthood without interference unless the child is in grave danger and parental rights are taken away in court. Any child that is a reproduction of me should be my legal obligation and inalienable right to care for until my mini-me reaches adulthood.
          If genetics is the basis for parenthood then surrogates would never be left responsible for a child if the commissioning couple abandons the child at birth. Surrogates could not decide they want to keep the child for themselves. People who use ART would not be able to take babies that they are not related to home from the hospital until the real parents relinquished their rights. That would prevent people from bonding with children whose real parents want to raise them, like clinic customers whose sperm is used to fertilize the egg of another clinic customer when he was just trying to get his wife pregnant or like the woman whose embryo was inadvertently gestated by another clinic customer.

          • So is the issue custody battles between egg donors, birth mothers, surrogates, sperm donors, husbands, husbands of surrogates, etc? If there is a custody battle for legal guardianship, the judge has to determine best interest of the child. A genetic connection is in the best interest, and has heavy weight, but still is one element of the overall best interest . It isn’t “determinative”. And inheritance has to be thrown out of the “best interest” equation, otherwise all children would be given to Bill Gates, even if he didn’t want them. And more weight should be given to how crass and corrupted it is to purposefully conceive children into adultery, and the long term well-being of society.

          • I don’t have that much to say here except that one line illustrates how differently we see the world. You say “The idea that the woman who gives birth is automatically the mother is an antiquated concept that ignores the reality of ART.” I’d say ART hasn’t changed anything about pregnancy, only conception. Thus, the woman who gives birth is still pregnant for 40 weeks, more or less, provided sustance to the developing embryo and so on. Childbirth is surely safer than it once was, but it is still childbirth. I don’t think ART has changed any of the things that matter.

            By the same time I’d say ART has changed the role genetics plays, with gametes being available for purchase and all the rest. And I am sure you’d say it doesn’t change anything–that genetics is still what it was.

            We just have a fundamental disagreement here. And it’s quite remarkable how far-reaching the consequences of this simple disagreement are.

        • John said something interesting: “The birth mother gets custody unless she was a legal surrogate” .

          by legal, I’m assuming you mean some type of regulated surrogacy.

          Should a surrogate in a legally relegated surrogacy situation have a different status than an unlegal one?

          • Yeah, I was taking it as a given that there are surrogacy contracts where the birth mother has already agreed to surrender the baby after she gives birth. I can’t imagine there would be women giving birth to another woman’s embryo without there being some sort of pre-arrangement that has some legal force as to who is going to assume legal custody. Again, though, it wouldn’t prevail over a judge’s ruling based on the best interest of the child.

      • When I said “first responsibility to be guardians” I was distinguishing it from “right to be legal guardians”, as in, it’s a responsibility of the progenitors to care for their offspring, not a right. They can lose it off the bat if they intentionally participated in unmarried procreation or are otherwise unfit.

        Bio-relatedness, all other things being equal, is in the best interest of a child, but other things affect that decision.

        • It boggles my mind that you should so clearly favor the genetic connection but then advocate removing children from genetic parents who may be loving, caring, and healthy people but are not married to eachother. It sounds like nothing but prejudice to me.

          • Oh, in most cases – almost all I hope – the baby would go home with the unmarried mom and she would have whatever relationship with the dad that she has, maybe they’d live together as a couple or maybe he’d just send a monthly check. I wouldn’t actually remove the baby from her. But if she flaunted that she intentionally conceived a baby with someone she is not married to, then that is evidence of her being unfit, and i think she should be on the spot there, she should claim it was an accident or marry the father. But it’s just an extreme position I put out there to illustrate the principle, I don’t think that would actually happen, though we can still call for it in principle to send the message that there is no right to intentional unmarried conception, or to parent kids that you produce illegitimately.

        • I think I understand the last assertion you make—that bio-relatedness is in the best interests of the child. But I don’t accept that proposition and I hope we can at least agree that it is not self-evident. It’s almost impossible to study this, too, so I’m not sure where to go.

      • good point julie… than it would have to be called the “conception certificate” 😉

        • Well, maybe embryos in freezers already have conception certificates, but my view is that they are not alive and not people and there should only be a legal certificate for a baby when it born. My view is that all the embryos in freezers should be destroyed before they come to life. But if they are allowed to come to life (implanted and heart beating) then they are alive and human beings with a right to stay alive, but still not legal persons until birth. At that point we need a certificate, and the progenitors of the new person should be recorded (and birth mother, doctor, etc).

        • Or a pedigree? More seriously, the question is whether this document would have a legal use. I grant that it might provide the child with important information and thus would have value. But when would you need to produce it–in the way you need to produce the birth certificate to register a kid for school or camp, I mean.

          • I think one legal use would be for marriage, to keep siblings from marrying. And for child support and estate issues, perhaps. And it might be taken into account in difficult custody cases, because there is a value for kids to be raised by biological parents, rather than separated from them. Of course it wouldn’t be determinative in custody cases.
            But as I said, it shouldn’t be a conception certificate but be what is recorded on the birth certificate, and what remains forever on the birth certificate. If different parents take custody, they should get a legal guardianship certificate which they use to register the kid at camp. Surely camps already deal with legal guardians who are not the parents on the child birth certificates, don’t they?

  8. “I think a child born to a married couple should be treated the same as a child born to an unmarried couple.” But Julie I thought you were always saying how the child only has a father or second parent if the mother is married. I thought you said that you don’t think there should be a man named as father at all unless he’s married to the mother. That a paternal relationship to the child should not be sufficient for a man to be named as father of his own offspring – that marriage to the mother is the only thing that should grant him the title of father of a child at birth.

    That statement seems inconsistent with your views on who gets to be s parent at birth.

    • Sorry to confuse. I suspect I was describing what the law is rather than what I think it ought to be. The law puts a lot of weight on marriage. I would not pick to do that. I don’t see why married/not married ought to make a difference in the parentage of a child.

      • Marilynn Huff

        So Julie where in your ideal world does the non-mother parent come from? You clearly advocate for two lesbian women to plan families together so then it would be that you think the woman having the baby can just assign whomever she wishes to be the other parent and either that person agrees or disagrees and in the case of your lesbian couple the non birthing person would agree and that would be the end of it. Right because the man related to the child should have no right to be involved in that child’s life even if he desperately wants to. The ironic thing is that half of all relationships split up at some point, leaving the mother in the exact situation that you fear where another person will have rights over her child that are equal to hers they would control her.

        • Excellent question. One I’m planning to write the next post about, in fact. But in a nutshell–I think there’s a second parent if the pregnant woman allows someone else to take on a parentlike role for a substantial period of time. That, it seems to me, is required by what I’ve said so far. The intention to parent problem is a very hard one for me. And figuring out if there are two parents at the moment of birth.

          There will be losers and some will be very sympathetic. A man or a woman who desparately wants to form a relationship with the child but doesn’t have the chance to won’t be a parent (pending resolution of my intent problem–more to follow on that.) And if the person is not a parent then their relationship with the child doesn’t have legal protection. It’s hard, I know.

          By the same token, the latter part of what you say is easier for me. Once a person has established the required relationship with the child, that’s much more important to me than the convenience of the adults invovled. Thus, where there is a second parent it is true there will be messy fights over the child sometimes. But those fights are the unfortunate consequence of recognizing and protecting the child’s crucial relationships. In other words, that’s a cost I am willing to pay, even though there will be terrible cases.

  9. I don’t think it is (generally) in the child’s interest to have two legal parents who have no real relationship with each other and don’t want to.
    Wow are you saying that Men’s parental rights over their own offspring should be legally cut upon dissolusion of his relationship with his offspring’s mother? That if the two of them d o not want a relationship together that he should not be assigned parental rights over his own offspring at birth? What if he like millions of other men and or women, is in a relationship with the mother when the child is born, but the relationship disolves a year or two later?

    “Maybe the DNA guy should be on the hook for child-support. I see that as an independent question of whether he should have the rights to decide about what is better for the child. ” So in your opinion the law should compel a man to support his offspring only if the woman decides not to name another random boyfriend or husband or domestic partner? So whether or not a man can be named as father of his own offspring is entirely dependant upon whether the mother happens to be in a relationship with someone she likes better than the man with whom she conceived? …DNA guy should be on the hook for child-support. (but) I see that as an independent question of whether he should have the rights to decide about what is better for the child.

    So unmarried fathers ordered to pay support, in your mind should have no rights over the child that they are supporting but married fathers would have rights over the child that they are supporting? I’m sure you also see the problem with compelling a person to financially support a child without giving them any rights at all over the child’s life. Who would determine if a unmarried man and his immediate family would have a right to see meet and make themselves known to the offspring he was ordered to support? It actually sounds like the unmarried father would have significantly less rights than the married father in your ideal senario.

    • I think I’ve addressed most of this in other comments I’ve just written. I would note, however, that there is (admittedly controversial) social science research that shows that kids who are in families with high-conflict divorce might be better off having sole custody awarded to only one parent, lest they become playing pieces in the parents’ fight. I don’t advocate that. And if I did, I wouldn’t say that the mother automatically wins. But I do think you can make the case that decreeing that a child will spend it’s youth subject to two parents who have no common ground will cause more trouble for that child than saying to the child here is one parent and let’s help you deal with the loss of the other. (It need not be a total loss-the person can play a role in the child’s life–just not as a parent.)

      • There is a difference between a non-parent and a non-custodial parent, let’s not confuse the two.

        Have you changed your position? I seem to recall that you advocated joint custody in feuding lesbian ex-couples.

  10. I also find it incredibly unfair to obligate someone to pay child support but give him no parental rights. He either is, or isn’t a parent.

    (Once again, it seems that you lean toward defining the role of fatherhood, by what is convenient for the mother!)

    The only exception is if he as been proven and unfit parent. He should still have to pay child support because we do not reward derelict parenthood by absolving them of their financial duties.

    • marilynn huff

      Yes Kisarita men and women can and are recognized as mothers and fathers and are expected to financially support their offspring and there are various and sundry custody and visitation arrangements from “even steven” to very restrictive supervised visitatior – but all the while identifying the two people that should be doing the work.

    • I suspect most readers agree with you here. But I don’t see why these two things are inevitably linked. We think of it as balance–you get the benefits because you have the burden. But why? If you engaged in conduct that caused the creation of a child, perhaps you have some obligation to help defray the costs. Same as if you cause some harm to another person in a traffic accident. I can quite separate that from whether you ought to be a parent to the child. I think that’s a different sort of question. (And I’m not saying the man would be permanantly liable for all child support–just that I can see them as distinct questions that get different answers.)

      • Child support isn’t some kind of penalty like causing someone a car accident. The reason for supporting ones child is not because of a behavior you did 5 or 10 years ago. It’s because this is your kid. Here and now.

        • Except that I might not agree that it is “your” kid. If you slept with a woman once and never saw her or the child again, I’m unwilling to say the child is “yours.” I don’t think you get an ownership interest in a child just because you helped to create the child. So I need to find a different basis for an obligation. It’s not so much that causing a pregnancy is like a car accident. I just wanted to point to the general rule that one is often held accountable for expenses incurred because of one’s own actions.

  11. marilynn huff

    But Julie that leaves a total complete stranger in a position where they can become the childs other parent and the man with the genetic link cant because he is no longer in a romantic relationship with her – you don’t find it unfair that if the biological father were paying his support and wanted to be a legal father to his child you don’t find it unfair that the mother could shack up with a new boyfriend or girlfriend and by virtue of living with the child for (exactly how long is long enough to become defacto parent) anyway that this stranger who may also split on the mother a few years down the road – you don’t find it unfair that this stranger could be named a parent over the biological father only because the stranger lived with the kid for a year or two?

    • I’m not sure what scenario you are thinking of, so it’s a bit hard to reply. But if the “complete total stranger” has played the role of a parent to the child for a significant period of time (which to my mind means this is not a “complete total stranger, but nevermind that) then I’d recognize and protect the relationship between that person and the child. If the man with the genetic link has also manifested his commitment to the child by forging his own relationship, then this would not be at the expense of that relationship. They can both be parents. Is this unfair?

      Perhaps what strikes you as unfair is something slightly different–if a woman become pregnant she can include the man (or any partner, for that matter) in the preparations for the birth of the child or not. Another person–genetically related or not–cannot force his/her way into her life. That does mean, I think, that at the time the child is born I’d say she is the only parent. This might strike you as unfair to the biologically related man (whether he is around or not?) and perhaps it seems like it is unfair to the excluded partner (whether biologically related or not). But it seems to me it is the only result that can follow from my position that parenthood is essentially earned by performance.

      What this does is give power to a woman who is pregnant to include or exclude others. I’m actually okay with giving her that power, but I wonder if this is what strikes you as unfair?

      • Marilynn Huff

        Your position that parenthood is essentially earned by performance is a stance that you take to achieve a particular agenda – not because you really believe it. You think the only way to get what you want is to take away the rights of people who you know deserve them. For instance you know full well that there will be situations where a gestational surrogate will try to keep the offspring of her commissioning couple and might well succeed if she simply takes off without a word. That is your sacrificial lamb. So are one night stand men who don’t want to marry the mother but do want to do the right thing and be involved with their children. You think that these instances will be so few and far between that its collateral damage to achieve your goal of legally recognized lesbian families.
        I hope that you started this blog to flush out the down sides of your platform, to find the fairest way to achieve your goal which hopefully is equality and not domination. The law should be set up to obligate men and women to support their offspring equally and to equally respect their rights to control over the lives of their offspring even if the man and the woman are not married. That is a good and fair thing. What is not fair is that in many places the lesbian partner of a woman with a child cannot adopt that child from the one night stand man if he is willing to give the child up for adoption. That is not fair.
        It seems to me that you want to change the law to take away the automatic assignment of a man’s parental rights upon the birth of his offspring because you think that most men who want to be parents will get to be anyway because they are in relationships with the mother when the child is born. To hell with those that arent so long as you get what you want because you dont see any other way to get it.
        Say the law forgets that a child is 50% related to the male and 50% related to the female – which is the basis of joint custody and parental rights…..Your saying pregnancy earns the woman 100% automatic parental control…..forgetting genetics, there would be no pregnancy were it not for the male and therefore you would have to give him some percentage of control Julie you cannot eliminate him completely even if you exclude genetics as a criteria. You must give the man some say so in that child’s life because he made the pregnancy occur. Lets say 25%? Enough for visitation and support visits with the paternal family.

        I know you think there will be very few casualties in your war, that relatively few people with good intentions will suffer from having their rights taken away. Its one thing for the law to inadvertently interfere with an individuals rights its another to intentionally set it up to do so. You should find a way to achieve your goal without hurting anyone in the process. When it comes to freedom and equality its not ok to have any sacrificial lambs.

        • I’m not quick to take offense but I must say, that your insistence that I do not say what I mean offends me. How on earth do you think you know what I do and do not believe? I’d ask you to refrain from statements like this (at least on the blog) as I do not see how they can possibly get us anywhere.

          That said, and although you may choose to discard it, I want to affirm that I do think that parenthood should be given to those who play the parental role in children’s lives. I think this is better for children (because it affirms the reality of their world) and fair to the adults who have invested the time/effort/passion in the relationship. I also think it is fair to those who have not made the investment–those who have not played the role, those who have not stepped up to the obligations (and I don’t mean fiscal obligations particularly) are not, in my view, entitled to claim protections of the law. Thus, I don’t think a person gets parental rights because of a genetic connection. I cannot imagine why you think that I know they deserve them, but I don’t.

          Further, no test is perfect–not mine and not anyone elses. I teach law and I work hard to get my students to recognize this. No matter what set of rules we adopt there are situations that will arise (because the variety of the human family seems to be infinite) where hearts will be broken. I think we need to acknowledge that and decide if the cost is worth paying. I suppose that does sound callous, but I think it’s realistic, too. To me, the critical question is how often will a test come out wrong and who will suffer in those cases. If a test comes out wrong 40% of the time, that’s intolerable. But if it is wrong 1% of the time, maybe we just have to live with that.

          If you think you have an answer that will always be right I’d like to hear it. And can you back off on telling me what I really think?

        • Marilynn Huff

          I appologize. I won’t do it again. I said that because you had responded recently that it would be absurd to expect women to take home a different baby than the one they’d given birth to. You did not think it would be a good idea to send women home with the offspring of other women, which was what I had suggested happen if genetics was so irrellevant to determining who is the parent of a particular child at birth. I maintain that one does not have a “relationship” with a particular child before birth as they are not legally a person yet. A pregnant woman is not caring for a baby she is operating her own body and the baby simply grows naturally. I was pretty sure you did feel it was important that the woman who gave birth actually helped conceive that particular baby herself with her own body.
          I’m wrong.

          • Fair enough. Thanks. I see what lead to the impression you describe. I think deliberately collecting infants and redistributing them at random is absurd, but you’re right to wonder why. Perhaps there is an inconsistency in saying that the pregnant woman has a relationship with the fetus she carres and also saying it is not a child until it is born. To the extent it seems that it is, I think I have to acknowledge that.

            • marilynn huff

              thanks – you know I don’t really believe that children should be shuffled and re-distributed – its like Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal, please don’t think I’m serious. Maybe I went to far to illustrate what I thought was a point. Please excuse me. Sarcasm and irony are not my strong suit.

            • The mother may not have a relationship with the fetus she is carrying, but the fetus does develop something like a relationship with its mother and her surroundings. They bond, recognize the mother’s smell, her voice, and the voice of others around her (like the father). That is reason enough to explain why you think it is absurd to randomly distribute newborns to mothers?

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