Family Law Fridays: The Illegitimacy of Illegitimacy
The Illegitimacy of Illegitimacy
It is surprising to me. No actually appalling that as far as we have come as a society the shame of being a child born out of wedlock is seen with scorn. Laws across this great country are somewhat antiquated. In many instances, biological fathers who want to have a relationship with their child are forced to jump through hurdles, when the child’s mother and her husband choose to raise the child as their own. The policy is to protect the child from illegitimacy. The biological father is relegated to somewhat of a sperm donor. The husband is the legal father of the child.
I do understand the legislatures. Children born to single mothers tend to be in worst financial conditions than those born to two parent households. Curtin SC, Ventura SJ, Martinez GM. Recent declines in non-marital childbearing in the United States. (NCHS data brief, no 162. 2014). However, with the CDC reporting that Births to unmarried women totaled 1,605,643 in 2013. id. We simply cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the reality that many children, nearly half of those born in the US are not of a husband and wife. Id.
I am one of those illegitimate children. At the time of my birth, my mother was separated from her husband. They eventually divorced. My biological father remained a constant in my life. But what would have happened had my mother and her husband decided to reconcile? My biological would have had to disappear. He would not be entitled to petition the court for visitation because my mother’s husband would be the legal father. Oh the shame and scorn of telling the world that I was illegitimate.
This is the mistake. There is no shame. The shame would be trying to convince the world, that I am the offspring of a man who bares no physical similarities to me. None.
I look like my biological father. I have his drive and ambition. I have even developed some medical ailments distinct from my siblings or mothers side of the family. Ailments suffered by several of my biological fathers’ family.
For many years, I resented not having the last name of my biological father. My mother was still married at the time of my birth so I have her husband’s last name – Marsh. A name for many years I have despised. Yet now I have decided to embrace it because it is the name my mother gave me. I am not mad with my mother. I hurt for her, understanding that she was trying to protect me from the shame society has placed on her for having an illegitimate child.
Thankfully, here in Florida things are changing. The courts have recognized that a biological father may petition the court for visitation when there is a showing he has had a substantial relationship with the child. Progress yes. But there are instances where the biological father has not had a substantial relationship with the child, and it is not until the child is much older that he has tried to foster a relationship with the child. In Florida, such a man would not be protected by our laws because it is “not in the best interest of the child” to render a child illegitimate. So biological fathers who have not had a substantial relationship with the child will you please go away!!!
As an Attorney, it is not my job to change the law but to enforce the legal rights of my clients. Within this framework, my job is to enforce the legal rights of those biological fathers who have had a substantial relationship with their child and want to petition the courts for visitation. Perhaps later, when the laws of our state have changed, I will be able to help more biological fathers. But today, this is the legal landscape.
I believe it is in the best interest of the child to know who they are. Being born out of wedlock does not make a child illegitimate. It is an opportunity for a child to have the love, care and affection from maybe two men.