Sally Sheldon, Kent Law School. Changing understandings of childhood, the appropriate role of the state in relation to the family, the significance of marriage and men's and women's responsibilities towards each other have contributed to a complex renegotiation of the rights and responsibilities of parenthood in general and fatherhood in particular. Parents' rights to transmit nationality to their children have evolved with changing attitudes and since 1 July 2006 in the UK unmarried fathers are now able to pass on citizenship to their children born after that date, in the way that mothers and married fathers have been able to do for some time.
This article tracks the historical evolution of nationality law as it relates to the status of non-marital children and compares the current position in the UK with that in the USA, where significant obstacles remain for non-marital children of US fathers who wish to gain US citizenship and where women are obligated by law to assume responsibility for a non-marital child, whereas fathers have a choice.
How is the modern concept of legal fatherhood defined? The science of genetics is central and several approaches co-exist. In general, there is a movement towards formal equality between mothers and fathers, with no regard to their marital status, but there is controversy when it comes to the basis upon which parental rights should be awarded and the status genetics should have in this process. The article considers the challenges for law makers and the practical and social issues which are at the heart of this matter, in the greater context of an agreed policy that the interests of the children should be foremost. See Child and Family Law Quarterly Vol 19, No 1, 2007 and Legislation, below.