Towards a Two-Track System of Child/Adult Relationship Recogntion?

Just a short and somewhat random thought today.   May recent items (some discussed here, here and here) suggest that (at least in my view) there are two distinct types of relationships between adults and children that might be worthy of recognition/protection.

One is the genetic relationship that exists between two adults and each of us.   It is grounded in DNA and is eternal and unchanging.   The second is a psychological/social/emotional relationship that may exist between the child and one, two or more adults.  These relationships are necessarily eternal or unchanging.   Sometimes the same two people can claim both relationships, but this is not always the case–not by a long shot, I suspect.

Now it might well be that each category of relationship is worthy of some form of recognition and protection.   But though the to sorts of relationships can, as I noted, co-occur, they are really quite different in nature.   Thus the legal structures by which we might recognize and protect them probably also should be quite different.

Of course, this isn’t the way law works today.   There is but a single category–that of legal parent.   And the legal parent gets all the rights and obligations.   In order to protect parental rights (which are lodged with legal parents) everyone who is not a legal parent gets pretty much nothing.   This means that in instances where there are different people occupying the two categories discussed above, they end up pitted against each other.   Is this really necessary?

I’m increasingly drawn to a dual track system–one that recognizes the two different categories of relationships noted above and treats them differently.   It’s not going to be hard to establish who the DNA folks are (which is not to say that it is going to be easy to locate them–just that once you locate a candidate you can tell easily and certainly whether they are in or out.)   It’s hard to see that elaborate legal proceedings would be necessary, or if they were, it would be very infrequently.

By contrast, it may be much more complicated to determine the psychological/social/emotional people.    This probably suggests and entirely different set of procedures from those used for the DNA folks.

More controversially (I’m guessing) I’d want different consequences to flow from recognition as someone who is one or the other category.     Because disruption of the psychological/social/emotional relationship would harm the child, these relationships, once recognized, need to be protected.   There isn’t necessarily any social relationship between the child and the DNA people, so I don’t think I’d take the same approach.  You might instead recognize the child’s entitlement to information and perhaps some form of access, but this could take many shapes.

I think there are many places that I’ve suggested something akin to this in the past, but it’s all seeming a bit clearer to me just now–what I think is, I mean.   So for whatever it is worth, there you are.


9 responses to “Towards a Two-Track System of Child/Adult Relationship Recogntion?

  1. Julie,

    Congrats – you have finally understood the adoptee reality. You can have two mothers and two fathers and each has a unique status and role.

    The legal parentage certificate would protect the social parent and the birth certificate would protect the genetic relationship.

    • I’m glad we seem to be on the same page. I have avoided the language that you used here for a variety of reasons, but the essence seems to match up. However, the devil may yet be in the details. I didn’t say (yet?) who gets what sort of rights and obligations. We may find that we agree less as we go down that road, but at least the framework is the same.

  2. Julie you ignore that when the two roles are not combined into one person it is almost always part of something sad happening. Also the fact that it doesn’t always work out that way doesn’t disqualify the norm. You also write as if the idea that it should be the same person is totally random.

    • That it should be the same person isn’t totally random, but my point was that it isn’t necessary either. And I’m not sure we advance any interests by assuming that it usually is. My assertion is that we’d be better of working with the two categories, letting it overlap when it does and when not, not. I am specifically avoiding (and thereby rejecting) an assertion that it SHOULD be the same person.

      And of course, though I expect you know this, I completely disagree with you that it us “almost always part of something sad.”

      • The child has to loose a parent to gain a non genetic parent. The non genetic parent would not be there unless the parent died or worse, lived but chose not to take care of them, or did such a horrible job of raising them that the child was taken into protective custody or worse deliberately created the child to for sale and then chose not to take care of them.

        Tell me Julie tell me one instance where a child gets a non-genetic parent without having to loose a genetic one. Tell me one instance where a non genetic parent enters the picture where its not sad – if the non genetic parent has permission from the genetic parent, its horribly sad because why did they give someone permission why don’t they want to raise the children that originate from them? Why would they lock their own flesh and blood out of their family. Horribly sad for the child. If the non genetic parent does not have permission from the genetic parent as in signed on the dotted line first and last name kind of permission, well then its horribly sad because they don’t know for sure that child was not made from stolen or mismatched genes from people who would never create a child and not take care of it. Seriously how could anyone look at that situation as anything but terribly sad. The only winner is the non genetic parent and that person’s romantic partner. It can be producutive and loving and pleasant for the child. It can be a great environment that fosters growth and development and lifelong bonds every bit as deep as blood because blood does not determine emotional attachment but it is still horribly sad sad sad that the child had to loose for someone else to gain

        • Okay–this is exactly the approach I’m trying to move away from. It does not have to be a zero sum game. (See the initial comment by the adopted ones.)

          I think the language you have chosen makes this confusing to say, so I won’t use it–but you can go back to it if you like. I am not sure yet what language choice I’d advocate here.

          A child has two genetic progenitors. The child shares DNA with each of these people. As a result of this relationship, the progenitors have some legal status with defined rights/obligations.

          A child (hopefully) also has an adult or adults who are social/psychological parents. I won’t discuss what qualifies them as such here–we’ve talked about that a lot. As a result of this relationship, the adults in that role have some legal status. It IS NOT the same legal status as the progenitors. This status brings with it a different set of rights/obligations.

          A person can be both a progenitor and a social/psychological parent, but they need not be. You could just be one of those two things. And perhaps most importantly for your comment, one does not replace the other. Instead, they complement each other.

  3. A recent case in Australia where the sperm donor (who then took on the role of ‘Dad’ as well as bio father) was taken off the birth certificate cause outrage. However the press did encourage that- sensationlising the story and not being completely accurate. Sells more papers. The lesbian couple who originally sought the donor – with the intention of them being the primary parents- had put the donor’s name on the birth certificate. There can only be 2 names listed. The laws later changed to then allow for same sex parents to be recognised legally, and to allow for the mothers to be on the certificate. The decision to request that the social mother be put on the certificate became more important when the couple split. The social mother who had been raising the child in the same household for years had no legal standing. To do this however the biological father had to be removed. She wrote to the father and told him she was doing this purely to be recognised. (technically she couldnt even pick up the child from school without he permission of the mother and father- as specified on the birth certificate) She told him this would not change his relationship with the child. The man felt outraged and the press have talked of the child no longer having a father- and then led on nicely to comparing this to the London riots – all involved apparently fatherless.
    Anyway, the judge actually said that he would have put all 3 on the certificate if allowed as the child views all 3 as he parents. The father is taking it further and seeking to have his name added. He is openly talking of now wanting nothing to do with the mothers, and of course this implies that a parenting relationship between all 3 for the sake of the child is not on the cards at the moment. So the child loses. in my opinion it should be the law that he should be angry with rather than the mothers, but of course we applaud him for wanting a relationship with her. Im not sure the child will care about a piece of paper at the moment- but it has raised a lot of debate- including on my own site pages:-)
    I cannot see why we cannot have a birth certificate that shows the biological parents, and shows the legal parents. The two may the same or not- nut the child can therefore have their biological origins recognised and acknowledged- but also the legal parents. Often these are a biological and social parent- but it may be two social parents as in the case of adopted children. This case in Australia has hopefully raised awareness that we do need to honour all involved- and that includes biological parents as well as legal ones. It does not seem to be complicated- and why can there not be more than 2 legal parents? In the Australia case the man acted as ‘Dad’ from birth- rather than sperm donor- and as such should, surely, have parental responsiblity. Because of the legal battle between these parties a child is stuck in the middle- whereas the reality is that she has 3 parents who love her. We need to make it easier for those relationships to occur, and also need to enable a child to have a clear representation of self on the birth certificate. Biological origins are one part of the story- parenting is another. And in today’s society the two do not always go hand in hand.


  4. Please forgive me for submitting before checking it – I write far too quickly and apologise for the spelling and gramatical errors- and hope it does still make sense:-)

  5. has anyone noticed that the child is being used? i say this as if all the people were involved adults (including the child) this contracted birth certificate, comprising of the child’s three owners, would look like an odd set-up indeed; three owners and one mute participant.

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