OVERCOMING THE MARITAL PRESUMPTION

Authors


mjacobs@law.msu.edu

Abstract

Parentage law is heavily influenced by the number “two.” The traditional paradigm of one mother and one father, especially a married mother and father, has been a bedrock of Western society. In recent decades, however, the traditional two parent paradigm has started to erode and courts have responded. For example, some courts have held that a child can have two legal parents of the same sex. In other cases, a child has been deemed to have just one legal parent and yet in others, even three legal parents. These cases highlight shifts within the law of parentage that have occurred as the nuclear family has decreased in prominence and as the use of assisted reproductive technologies has changed the ways in which families are created. I have previously advocated for the expansion of legal parentage to persons not traditionally considered a legal parent, such as the lesbian partner of a legal mother. I have also suggested that, in limited circumstances, courts consider conferring legal parentage in more than two adults who are raising a child including recognizing that a child might have two fathers. In my home state of Michigan, the traditional two parent paradigm is firmly entrenched as illustrated, in part, by the state's strict marital presumption, which does not permit a putative father the ability to challenge the husband's paternity. About one-fifth of U.S. jurisdictions have a similarly strict marital presumption. In this short essay, I criticize the lingering marital presumption and use the critique to illustrate broader inconsistencies within the law of parentage. I also make some modest suggestions for parentage law reform.

Key Points for the Family Law Community:

  • Family law should embrace changing family forms and recognize more than two legal parents for some children.
  • The marital presumption, while historically expedient, should be replaced with an intent and function based assumption of parentage.

Ancillary