Gendering Legal Parenthood: Bio-Genetic Ties, Intentionality and Responsibility

Faculty Author Type

Emeritus Faculty [Susan B. Boyd]

Published In

Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice

Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



legal parenthood; bio-genetic ties; intentionality; responsibility; fathers' rights; women's autonomy


Recent legal developments in Canada have produced contradictory trends in relation to defining parenthood and determining parental rights and responsibilities. In some cases, the intention to parent appears to be given considerable weight. In others, bio-genetic ties prevail, or influence the extent to which intentionality will be recognized. This article suggests a feminist approach to the determination of legal parenthood, drawing on literature about the gendered nature of parenting law, fathers' rights, and the fragmentation of parenthood. It explores the apparently contradictory legal trends by examining the extent to which bio-genetic ties and intentionality inform the fragmentation of parenthood, and argues that gender still plays an important role in mediating both intentionality and bio-genetic ties. Strategic possibilities in relation to law reform are suggested, drawing on empirical studies about non-traditional families, especially lesbian-headed families. These studies point to a complex approach to bio-genetic ties and intentionality that the law may need to address in order to better protect the best interests of children and to enhance the autonomy of women who wish to define the conditions under which they parent a child.