What are Natural Children?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

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.

Natural children often refers to children who are born to parents who are not married.
Natural children often refers to children who are born to parents who are not married.

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.

Natural children as a term has several opposing definitions in the legal arena.
Natural children as a term has several opposing definitions in the legal arena.

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.

Some children may feel they are unfairly treated by a non-biological parent.
Some children may feel they are unfairly treated by a non-biological parent.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


@indigomoth - Actually I wish that people would do more to move away from the idea of natural children, even in terms of adoption. I know the whole idea of child support depends on it, but I wish there was more of a push for people to put emphasis on the person who raised the child as being the parent, rather than just the person who happened to donate sperm or an egg.

So many people get so upset about not being able to have "their own" children, when they could adopt and basically have their own kids, who happen to be the biological children of someone else. So many kids are languishing in foster homes, or even in abusive situations because we value the idea of blood ties above everything else.

I know this is a tricky subject, but I really wish that it would be discussed more and that it wasn't such a sticking point for so many people.


@browncoat - I don't see how that is any different from any other marriage contract though. These days we'd expect someone to provide for all of their children and even the order of birth often wouldn't matter, let alone the parentage of the children.

I guess I just don't like the idea of massive wealth and privilege being passed down through bloodlines in any way, shape or form. Making arbitrary rules about which children should get which piece of the pie just seems petty to me and I'm glad most places are starting to move away from that.


The thing is, I can see why the illegitimate heir to a throne would be considered lower in line than a legitimate heir, because for royalty the marriage actually has more of a significance in terms of a contract. If you're a princess and you marry a prince, part of the deal is that your first born gets rights to the throne.

I don't think there should be any shame attached to a person's circumstances at their birth and whether or not their parents happened to be married. But I also don't think this is a matter of shame, but a matter of birthright and law.

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