The term natural children has several opposing definitions in the legal setting. It was used widely in common language as a more formal and less insulting term than “bastard,” or other labels like "illegitimate." It often referred to someone who was born to parents who were not married. In contrast, the term natural may used as the opposite of adopted, and be synonymous with words like biological. Any children born to a person could be their natural children, without regard to the parents’ state of relationship. From a legal standpoint, both definitions might be discussed in family or adoption law, and there are different ways laws have been constructed to determine rights of inheritance based on familial standing.
The rule of law has certainly been the destination for dispensation of the fate of many natural children. In the past, many cultures attached a significant amount of shame to having children outside of the married state. This doesn’t mean it was an uncommon occurrence, but it did mean that many people sought to hide these children from sight or made choices to give them up. Jurisdictions made decisions on how to legally surrender natural children, and laws of various regions also dictated the responsibilities of natural parents to children, which could vary from no legal responsibility to significant financial and care demands.
In many modern societies, these distinctions and the attendant moral judgments imposed about the origin of natural children have largely been removed. The courts do still determine how to proceed with adoptions, but a child born in or out of wedlock is often the legal responsibility of both parents. Virtually all counties do give parents the right to surrender this responsibility if they choose. The idea of using “natural children” as a euphemism for illegitimate children is definitely outmoded, though some language in legal proceedings may still employ it.
Even the description of illegitimacy is no longer used because of its potential negative and discriminatory taint. Countries with strong civil rights platforms have spent significant effort creating laws that aren’t discriminatory to children based on their birth circumstances. On the other hand, courts may still use the term to express biological relationship between parents and children. This is necessary when family structures become more convoluted and involve step-parents, adoptive families, foster families or others.
In the past, one of the most discriminatory postures in many legal codes was that illegitimate children had fewer rights of inheritance than their “legitimate” siblings. Laws began changing on this in the early 20th century, but certain rights are still only afforded to legitimate heirs, even in very modern countries. At present, an illegitimate heir to Queen Elizabeth II would have less right to assume the throne than most legitimate heirs.