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Legitimacy (law)

From Academic Kids

In the common law tradition, legitimacy describes the status of children who are born to parents that are legally married. Its opposite is bastardy, the status of being a bastard, a person born to unmarried parents, or to a married woman but whose father was someone other than her husband.

The definition of legitimacy at common law famously differed from the definition of canon law, the laws of the church. The church would allow any child of married parents as legitimate, even if the marriage took place immediately before the woman gave birth. The common law, taking a less indulgent view, required that at least seven months must intervene between the wedding and the birth before the child would be legitimate in the eyes of the law of England.

Legitimacy was formerly of great consequence, in that only legitimate children could inherit their fathers' estates. In the United States, a series of Supreme Court decisions in the early 1970s abolished most, but not all, of the common law disabilities of bastardy as violations of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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