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Journal of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers


When the parental status of one or more people involved in a civil action is contested in a court in the United States, the need for a legal parentage determination arises. In these contests, legal parentage can differ from personally and/or publicly perceived parentage. Legal parentage can also differ by context, as between child custody and child support settings. Legal parentage most often varies by context in a single American state where the purposes behind varying parentage laws differ, as where biology is key in one setting and parental like acts are key in another setting.

Parental status laws are challenging today because increasingly they no longer operate chiefly at birth or during a formal adoption. Rather, more frequently parental status under law arises due to actions occurring preconception; postconception but prebirth; or long after birth but with no formal adoption. Parentage contests are even more challenging when relevant conduct occurs in several states. Family relationships can first be established in one state, be continued in a second state, and only become legally disputed in a third state.

The following sections reflect on some of the challenges facing judges, lawyers, families, the public at large, and the state(s) interested in legal parentage contests. These challenges include finding the source(s) of parentage law, which sometimes necessitate analyzing shared governmental powers; involving differing intrastate parentage laws by context; involving interstate parentage law variations in a single context; and choosing between conflicting state laws in multistate conduct cases.

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College of Law



Suggested Citation

Jeffrey A. Parness, Who Is A Parent? Intrastate and Interstate Differences, 34 J. Am. Acad. Matrim. Laws. 455 (2022).

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