At one time, for a child to be legitimated they had be born to parents that were married to each other at the time of the child’s birth. Current laws give a legitimate child some different rights than an illegitimate child, but the definitions of legitimate and illegitimate are different from what they were in the past as well.
Legally, a child becomes legitimate when the child’s out of wedlock father becomes their legal father. Current family law states that once a child is officially acknowledged by a father, they have the right to inherit the father’s estate. A legitimate child also has the right to receive financial support.
A child is always considered to be legitimate if the parents are married at the time of birth. Under canon law, which is a set of laws that govern the Catholic church, children can be legitimated if their parents marry within a certain time period after their birth. Throughout history, the time period given has usually been 12 months.
Canon law also dictates that a child can only be made legitimate if the parents of that child could have been married at the time of conception. This means that if either parent was married to someone else at the the time of conception, the child cannot be legitimated. Civil children’s law used to follow the same guidelines.
Children law favored the legitimate child for centuries. Only within the past 50 years have any real changes and reform come to help illegitimate children. Law in all 50 states currently allows illegitimate children the same inheritance and support rights that legitimate children have. Other countries besides the United States have also begun using some of these reformed laws.
Under standard current children’s law, a child is legitimate if paternity is acknowledged, not if the parents are married at the time of birth. A woman can seek an order to have the child legitimated.
As in the past, a legitimate child and an illegitimate child have different rights under children’s law. However, unlike in the past, legitimacy does not refer to the parents’ marital status. Instead a legitimate child is one who has been legally claimed by their father. This makes determining legitimacy somewhat easier to obtain than it has been throughout history, as parents are not forced to marry for the child’s sake.