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date: 23 May 2022

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores the contemporary relevance of genetic connection to legal parental status. After briefly explaining the legal origins of the link between genetic and legal parenthood—mostly through paternity law—the chapter analyzes the U.S. Supreme Court’s dance with the constitutional relevance of genetic connection to legal parenthood. Although the Supreme Court was eager to dispense with marriage as the sole arbiter of legal parenthood, it was unwilling to embrace genetics as a complete substitute. Instead the Court suggested that genetics must sometimes be relevant to legal parenthood, without giving any clear guidelines on when or why. The absence of any guidelines is particularly relevant in the United States today because 40 percent of children are born to unmarried mothers and, thus, usually have a father identified through a regulatory mechanism rooted mostly in genetics. The men identified as legal fathers in this way, while often desirous of being good fathers, are often—through no fault of their own—unable to provide either financially or emotionally for their children. Attempts to bolster the legal rights and parenting opportunities of these men often expect the law to do what it cannot: force two people (in this case, the genetic parents) to trust and cooperate with each other. This chapter thus raises the question of whether the link between genetic and legal parenthood still serves any useful purpose. The best solution for children may be for the law to grow more comfortable with the legitimacy of single parenthood.

Keywords: parenting, paternity, legitimacy, fatherhood, single mothers, sexuality, family law

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