CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1In some instances, children may lose their filiation – that is, all legal ties with one or both original parents – and in most cases acquire a new one. Adopted children are a relatively well-known example, but other children may lose their filiation with a man hitherto considered their father by law if he is not in fact their biological parent. Pursuing the analysis of a 1997 survey of birth certificates of children born since 1965, Francisco Munoz-Pérez estimates the frequency of such filiation losses in France. Losses of filiation have become much less common owing to a decrease in the number of unwanted births, as well as sweeping changes in legislation on filiation, divorce, contraception and abortion in the 1960s and 1970s. Major conjugal shifts – the decline of marriage, the development of non-marital unions, union dissolutions and reconstituted families – have not been accompanied by a weakening of children’s filiation with their parents.

2Over the last five decades, in the majority of developed countries, the institution of traditional marriage has considerably weakened as the social and economic role of women has evolved. In the 1960s and 1970s, laws liberalizing divorce were passed in many countries (Commaille et al., 1983) while, in parallel, the number of union dissolutions increased at an unprecedented rate (Kiernan, 2002). During the same period, marriage ceased to be the exclusive manner of forming partnerships, and de facto unions became more frequent and more stable.

3France was no exception to the trend. While one-tenth of marriages in the 1950s ended in divorce, the proportion has risen to four out of ten marriages celebrated in the early 1990s (Prioux, 2007). Meanwhile, consensual partnerships, previously viewed as trial periods preceding marriage, have shifted in nature to become in most cases an enduring lifestyle choice (Toulemon, 1997).

4The dissolution of marital or non-marital unions often gives rise to reconstituted families. The number of children living with a parent – most often the mother – and a step-parent rose to 1,070,000 in 1999, from a figure of 935,000 ten years earlier (Barré, 2005).

5The decline of marriage as an institution also led to a rise in the number of births outside marriage. Although there was a general increase in Western European countries (Duchêne, 2004), it was particularly marked in France, where the majority of births now take place outside marriage (52% in 2008). Concurrently, the proportion of children recognized by their father continues to rise, from 75% for children born in the 1960s to 95% of those born in the early 2000s (Munoz-Pérez and Prioux, 2005). The increase in births outside marriage has been accompanied, in France and elsewhere, by major reforms in legislation governing filiation. [1]

6In this context – an increase in consensual unions and filiation outside marriage, instability of conjugal ties, large numbers of reconstituted families – how has filiation fared? Has it too become more tenuous than in the past?

7Filiation refers here to the legal ties established between a child and his or her parents as provided by law. One could raise the objection that this definition limits the filial relationship to a single aspect that barely begins to cover its true nature. There is no doubt that the biological and/or socioaffective dimensions of filiation are important, and that the person considered the “true” parent may not be the one who is legally recognized as such (Lelièvre et al., 2008). Nonetheless, the legal definition of filiation encompasses the biological and/or socioaffective dimensions in the vast majority of cases, and, with the establishment of legal ties, society recognizes the inclusion of the child in the line of descent and in doing so, gives the child a name and an identity, as well as fundamental rights and responsibilities.

8For these reasons, we can consider that changes in the nature of filiation as established by law have accompanied or even been revelatory of the radical changes in the filial relationship experienced by children and their parents. Given that the act of recording legal filiation (or its dissolution) is inherent to establishing it, data based on legal filiation are particularly reliable.

9For our purposes, the loss of the child’s original filiation will be taken as an indicator of the instability of the filial tie. By examining the frequency of such losses since the 1960s, we shall see that filiation has not been weakened, but on the contrary strengthened, both inside and outside marriage, and that this increased stability benefits both maternal and paternal filiation.
After listing the sources of the data used and the legal means of establishing filiation, we shall analyse the results of losses of paternal and/or maternal filiation. Acquisition of a second filiation after the loss of the original one will then be examined. At each stage, we will make a distinction between children born inside and outside marriage. The extremely rare cases involving the loss of a second filiation, as well as the acquisition of a third one, will not be discussed. A comparative overview of European legislation on filiation is provided in Appendix 1.

I – Sources and limitations of data used

1 – Sources

The “Devenir des enfants naturels” survey

10The Devenir des enfants naturels (DEN) survey (Fate of children born outside marriage) was carried out by the Institut national d’études démographiques (INED) in 1997 to gain a better grasp of changes in behaviour since the 1960s in relation to filiation. DEN was a sample survey that analysed civil registers representative of the country’s situation. In theory, the target population was that of children born outside marriage, but it was also possible to collect data on events affecting the filiation of children born inside marriage. In total, 575,200 birth certificates of children born in 1965, 1970, 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990 and 1994 were consulted. Among the total, 91,700 children were born outside marriage and 483,500 inside marriage. In the first group, nearly 34,000 certificates were examined in detail. In the second, the certificates of some 1,000 children were examined closely after an event affecting their filiation was noted on their birth certificates. In total, around 5,000 birth certificates were analysed for each birth cohort. [2]

11Information on the birth certificate provided details of the child’s filiation at birth – legitimate or natural – and in the latter case, filial ties to both parents, a single parent, or neither parent. Annotations in the registers after the birth of the child also made it possible to identify all events liable to modify the child’s filiation over time, since any legal act modifying an individual’s civil status, even in a municipality other than that of birth, must be noted on the birth certificate in accordance with French law. Such legal acts include recognition of paternity, marriage of the parents, annulment of recognition, full adoption [3] of children born outside marriage, disavowal by the father, challenge of paternity, annulment of legitimate paternity, and full adoption of children born inside marriage. Abandonment is also noted in the margin of a child’s birth certificate when one or both parents ask for their identity to be kept secret (and only in this case). [4]

12The event type and date are almost always noted, as well as the date the information was recorded. In most cases, the date and place of birth of the persons designated are also known; occasionally their address and occupation are also mentioned. In cases of abandonment or adoption, the annotation mentioning the event is sometimes undated, but such instances are rare.

13For each of the children in the sample, events were thus observed over the period from the child’s birth date to within a few weeks of the survey, i.e. the period required for an event to be recorded on the birth certificate. At the time of the survey, children from the first cohort were in their thirties, and the youngest (1994 cohort) were approaching or had reached their third birthday.
Civil registers provide data that are fairly comparable with those that would be obtained from a retrospective survey of individuals, although there are draw-backs inherent to the source, most notably the limited amount of information recorded. That said, there are considerable advantages. First, data gathered from the registers are much more reliable than answers elicited from individuals which may be biased by memory lapses, lack of information, or even false declarations. Next, civil registers make it possible to cover a long time period that is beyond the scope of an ordinary survey. Finally, the sample of birth certificates includes all the children and their mothers, regardless of their place of residence after the birth, whereas a survey would generally only cover persons living in ordinary households.

Legal statistics

14To extend the period covered in the 1997 survey, we also made use of the statistics published regularly by the French Ministry of Justice. A by-product of court activities, the information was less detailed than data obtained from the 1997 survey, and the categories used were not a perfect match for the ones in the survey. The statistics proved useful nonetheless. They will be discussed in greater depth later.

2 – Limitations of data

15As with all retrospective survey data, the DEN data are right-censored. Observations can be deemed complete for the first four cohorts, as losses of filiation very rarely occur beyond 13 or 14 years of age (the 1980 cohort was aged 17 in the survey year). For more recent cohorts (1985, 1990 and 1994), estimates take the trends observed in previous cohorts into account. For the 1985 and 1990 cohorts, this estimate applies to 15% and 30%, respectively, of the total losses of filiation among children born outside marriage, and 7% and 25% among those born inside marriage. Although the proportion seems relatively high for the 1990 cohort, any potential error should not call the basic findings into question. When these findings are presented, the cohorts are often grouped in twos to reduce the margin of error. For the 1994 cohort, there is greater uncertainty, and its figures only provide an order of magnitude. The use of recent legal statistics nevertheless helps reduce this uncertainty. The effects of censoring on second filiations will be specifically discussed in the corresponding section. In each table, estimated values are written in italics.

16Another limitation concerns the nature of certain events – more specifically, full adoptions – mentioned in the civil register. In some cases, full adoption was pronounced in favour of the biological parent’s partner (the father or, much more frequently, the mother), while the other filial link, paternal or maternal, remained intact. Data collected in the 1997 survey do not identify this type of adoption, but a survey commissioned by the Ministry of Justice on adoption rulings (Ministère de la Justice, 1996) indicated that in the early 1990s, the full adoption of a partner’s offspring represented around one in every six adoptions. A second, more recent survey of 2007 data (Ministère de la Justice, 2009) found very similar proportions and revealed highly stable behaviour. The number of full adoptions observed in each of the cohorts was thus reduced by this proportion. While this is an approximate correction, it should not tangibly affect the value of our findings.
Last, some adoptions may take place after the death of the parent(s) who recognized the child. These cases cannot be distinguished from other forms of adoption in the civil registers, as the death of the parent(s) is not recorded on a child’s birth certificate. Such losses of filiation are very different from the type of losses we are dealing with in this study and, strictly speaking, ought not be included. The relative frequency of these cases is very low, however, with an order of magnitude much lower than that of the values presented below. [5]

II – Establishment and loss of legal filiation

1 – Establishment of filiation

17For children born outside marriage, paternal filiation is generally established through the father’s explicit recognition of paternity on the birth certificate, or on a separate act of recognition if this occurs before or after the declaration of birth. Filiation established by a court ruling is much less common, while one established by any other duly authenticated document (before a notary, for instance) is rare. Until recently, maternal filiation required explicit recognition as well, in principle, but the mention of the mother’s name on the birth certificate was generally sufficient. After the major reform of filiation laws in 1972, a birth certificate bearing the mother’s name was deemed proof of recognition when it was corroborated by possession of status, i.e. by sufficient evidence of the filiation between the child and the presumed parent (article 337 of the Civil Code). Since the ordinance of 04/07/2005, mention of the mother’s name in the birth certificate has in itself been sufficient for establishing maternal filiation.
For children born inside marriage, paternal filiation is established by the declaration of birth if the child was conceived during the marriage (article 312 of the Civil Code), by virtue of the presumption of paternity in favour of the husband. Maternal filiation is established when the mother’s name is recorded on the birth certificate.

2 – Loss of original filiation

Children born outside marriage

18Case A. Paternal recognition of a child with double filiation is annulled by court ruling, following a lawsuit contesting such recognition brought by the author of the recognition himself, the child, the mother, the person claiming to be the true father, or any other interested person (Article 339 of the Civil Code, Examples 1 and 2, Appendix 2). Court rulings annulling maternal filiation are extremely rare.

19Case B. After recognition by the father, the child is abandoned with a request for secrecy of filiation, or is fully adopted (Examples 3 and 4, Appendix 2). In most cases, the child also enjoyed maternal filiation; both maternal and paternal filiations are thus lost. Abandonment of a child does not, strictly speaking, modify filiation. However, if anonymity is expressly requested, the child has de facto lost filial ties with both parents, especially since this type of abandonment is always accompanied by consent to the child’s adoption, which constitutes an early renunciation of the filial relationship. It will thus be considered here as a loss of filiation in the same manner as the others.

20Case C. The child, not recognized by the father and with maternal filiation only, is abandoned, with a request for anonymity of the mother, or adopted (Examples 5, 6, 7, Appendix 2).

21In case A, the child loses paternal filiation but keeps maternal filiation; in case B, the child most often loses paternal and maternal filiation, or more rarely, paternal filiation only; in case C, the child loses maternal filiation, the only one established.

Children born inside marriage

22As with children born outside marriage, those born inside marriage may lose their filiation with their father or with both parents.

23Case D. Challenge of paternity of the mother’s husband. The challenge may be made by the husband himself, in which case it is a disavowal of paternity (Article 312 of the Civil Code; Example 8, Appendix 2). He must give proof that he cannot be the child’s father, specifically, proof that it was physically impossible for him to have cohabited with the mother at the time the child was conceived. The husband must file for disavowal within six months (before 1972, the deadline was one month) following the child’s birth, or following his return if he was absent at that time. Since the 1972 reform, the institution of disavowal proceedings has been unnecessary for children no longer covered by the presumption of paternity, i.e. children conceived during the period of legal or de facto separation, and posthumous children. Presumption of paternity is also excluded when the child, recorded in the register without an indication of the husband’s name, only has possession of status in relation to the mother. Before 1972, presumption of paternity was in effect even when only the mother’s maiden name was recorded on the birth certificate and a man other than the husband recognized the child. Thus, after 1972, the scope of presumption of paternity was restricted, making it unnecessary to engage disavowal proceedings in a certain number of cases (Cornu, 2001, p. 359). This is one of the factors contributing to the drop in the number of losses of paternal filiation observed after the 1965 and 1970 cohorts.

24Since 1972, a mother has had the right to challenge her husband’s paternity of a child, but only if she wishes to legitimize that child after remarriage with the true father (Article 318 of the Civil Code, Example 9, Appendix 2). In that case, the child becomes a legitimate child of the second marriage without going through the “natural child” status.

25Case E. Recognition of the child by a man other than the mother’s husband (Example 10, Appendix 2). This recognition is legally valid when the legitimate paternal filiation established by the birth certificate is not corroborated by the possession of status, i.e. by facts confirming such paternity. This possibility already existed prior to the 1972 reform and was confirmed in 1985.

26Based on the information recorded in the margin of the birth certificate, it is not always possible to distinguish between disavowals, challenges by the remarried mother, or recognition by a third party. The results presented thus cover all three cases without distinction.
Case F. Abandonment of the child with a request for parental anonymity, or full adoption (Example 11, Appendix 2). This case is identical to the one examined for children born outside marriage (Case C).

III – Results

1 – Losses of filiation among children born outside marriage

27Trends in losses of paternal and/or maternal filiation are presented in Table 1 and Figure 1. The apparent precision of the figures is misleading. These are rare events, so despite the large sample size, confidence intervals are relatively large. Even so, this does not alter the order of magnitude of the frequency of the various events studied, nor the trends that emerge across cohorts, which are supported by the legal statistics.

Table 1

Losses of natural filiation, by cause, for 10,000 children born outside marriage between 1965 and 1994

Table 1
Reason for loss of filiation Child’s year of birth 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1994 Total losses of filiation, of which: 288.78 (±49.0)(b) 293.8 (±45.4) 271.2 (±38.5) 98.7 (±20.6) 71.3(a) (±14.5) 43.2 (±6.8) 25.0 A. Annulment of paternal recognition (loss of paternal filiation only; recognized by mother at or after birth) 64.7 (±23.4) 94.2 (±26.0) 96.5 (±23.2) 41.7 (±13.4) 37 (±10.4) 25.0 (±5.2) – B. Abandonment(c) or adoption of children recognized by the father, of which: 34.5 (±17.6) 37.9 (±16.5) 51.0 (±16.9) 27.3 (±10.9) 11.5 (±5.8) 6.4 (±2.6) – recognized by father only (loss of paternal filiation only) 5.6 0.1 1.2 0.9 0.0 0.9 – also recognized by the mother (loss of both filiations) 28.9 37.8 49.8 26.4 11.5 5.5 – C. Abandonment(c) or adoption of children not recognized by the father (loss of maternal filiation only) 189.6 161.7 123.7 29.7 22.8 11.8 – (±39.9) (±33.9) (±26.2) (±11.3) (±8.2) (±3.5) of which children born anonymously(d) 6.7 5.7 4.4 3.4 3.1 1.0 – Observed cases 140 168 202 98 92 86 10 (a) Figures in italics for the 1985 and 1990 cohorts represent an estimation of filiation losses beyond the ages of 12 and 7 respectively, the ages of these cohorts at the time of the survey. The suggested estimate for the 1994 cohort is not robust owing to the low number of cases observed and the estimated losses of filiation after age 3, which remain relatively numerous. (b) 95% confidence intervals (c) With request for anonymity by parent(s). (d) Children born to anonymous parents (nés sous X) are only counted here if they are recognized by their mothers after birth. Abandonment and adoption of children are very rare after recognition of paternity (case B). Source: DEN survey, INED 1997..

Losses of natural filiation, by cause, for 10,000 children born outside marriage between 1965 and 1994

Figure 1

Loss of natural paternal and/or maternal filiation, by cause, for 10,000 children born outside marriage between 1965 and 1994

Figure 1

Loss of natural paternal and/or maternal filiation, by cause, for 10,000 children born outside marriage between 1965 and 1994

Source: DEN survey, INED 1997.

An overall decrease in losses of filiation as a whole

28Out of 10,000 children born outside marriage in the mid-1960s, slightly fewer than 300 lost their paternal and/or maternal filiation. This proportion remained the same until the mid-1970s, then decreased sharply. For children born outside marriage in the early 1980s, some 100 out of 10,000 lost their filiation. The trend continued at a slower rate until the 1994 cohort, for which losses of filiation stood at around 25 per 10,000 children born outside marriage.

In the past, loss of filiation mainly affected fatherless children abandoned by their mothers

29In the 1960s, two in three cases of loss of filiation affected children who had no paternal filiation and were abandoned by their mothers, or whom the mother or family council agreed to give up for adoption (case C). [6] The absence of a father was thus associated with a strong risk for the child: that of losing maternal filiation. The rise in paternal recognition for children born in the 1970s (Munoz-Pérez and Prioux, 2000) partly explains the decrease in this type of filiation loss before 1980, a trend encouraged by new measures providing aid to single mothers. [7]

30We also observe the gradual disappearance of the (relatively infrequent) practices of certain child welfare offices which, in the 1960s and 1970s, had provisional civil records established for children who were pupilles de l’État (orphans or declared abandoned by the court) in the absence of parental requests for anonymity (Verdier and Duboc, 2002).

31More generally speaking, the spread of contraception and the decriminalization of abortion in the early 1970s contributed significantly to reducing this type of filiation loss by reducing the number of unwanted births. [8]
These losses of filiation can occur at any age, from birth to adolescence, but take place before the age of seven in eight cases out of ten (Table 2, Case C). [9] There are no pronounced differences for this aspect between the older and younger cohorts, aside from a slight tendency toward older ages, reflected as a change in the median age (3.9 years in the 1965-1970 cohorts; 4.6 years in the 1985-1990 cohorts).

Table 2

Distribution of filiation losses, by age and cause, for children born outside marriage, by birth cohort (%)

Table 2
Cohorts 1965-1970 1975-1980 1985-1990 1965-1970 1975-1980 1985-1990 1965-1970 1975-1980 1985-1990 Completed age A. Annulment of paternal recognition B. Abandonment or adoption after paternal recognition C. Abandonment or adoption without paternal recognition Below 3 years 5.1 6.8 8.6 0.0 2.9 9.5 42.0 40.0 34.6 3-6 years 19.0 30.1 45.3 26.3 45.7 71.4 36.7 40.8 39.5 7-11 years 44.3 39.8 32.8 44.7 40.0 19.0(a) 11.7 12.8 21.0 12+ years 31.6 23.3 13.3 28.9 11.4 0.0 9.6 6.4 4.9 Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 Median age 9.9 8.6 6.7 9.6 7.2 5.3 3.9 4.0 4.6 (a) Estimated values in italics. Source: DEN survey, INED 1997.

Distribution of filiation losses, by age and cause, for children born outside marriage, by birth cohort (%)

A late decrease in losses of paternal filiation

32No decrease was observed for Cases A and B prior to the 1980 cohort. Annulments of paternal recognition (Table 1, Case A) increased from 65 per 10,000 children in the 1965 cohort to nearly 100 in the 1970 cohort, and stayed at this level before dropping sharply after 1975. Although rarer, the abandonment or adoption of children recognized by their father (Case B) followed a similar trend.

33The greater fragility of paternal filiation among children from the 1970 and 1975 cohorts may be associated with a measure of instability in the relationship between the mother and the man recognizing the child, at a time when growing sexual liberation was not always accompanied by the control of fertility. Conditions changed radically for cohorts born in and after the 1980s. The growing number of children born to stable couples was reflected in a steady decrease in annulments of paternal recognition and in losses of filiation through abandonment or adoption.

34Children recognized by the father are much less likely to be abandoned and adopted (Figure 1, lines B and C), but the age at which this occurs is also higher (Table 2, Case B). Abandonment or adoption are rare before age 3, and the overwhelming majority of filiation losses occur between ages 3 and 12. Unlike for children with no paternal filiation, the median age decreases rapidly across the cohorts, [10] although an event rarely occurs before age 3.

35The existence of a paternal filial link not only reduces the risk of abandonment or adoption, but also delays it. This effect has lessened considerably in recent cohorts, where the median age (5.3 years) is only slightly higher than that of children in category C (4.6 years), compared with a gap of more than 5 years in the older cohorts.
Regarding losses of paternal filiation only (Table 2, Case A), whose timing among the cohorts from 1965 to 1980 was very similar to that observed for Case B, the children’s ages at the time of the event have decreased less sharply, and loss of filiation occurs later than in Case B (median age of 6.7 years for A, 5.3 years for B).

Sociodemographic characteristics of mothers

36The mother’s age and socio-occupational category at the time of the child’s birth can shed some light on the context in which these losses of filiation take place.

37In the 1965-1975 cohorts, the distribution of the age at maternity of women whose children were abandoned and/or adopted (Cases B and C) is very close to that of unmarried mothers as a whole (Figure 2a). When births outside marriage became more common (1985-1990 cohorts), the distribution of Cases B and C diverged from the overall trend. For unmarried mothers, age at maternity went up (with the median age rising from 23.0 to 25.3 years), which probably reflects the general trend of delayed childbearing and the increase in the number of stable unmarried couples with two or more children. Mothers in categories B and C appear to have contributed little to this trend.

Figure 2a

Cumulative distribution (%) of ages and median ages (m) at maternity for the 1965-1970, 1975-1980 and 1985-1990 cohorts, by type of filiation loss and for all unmarried mothers

Figure 2a

Cumulative distribution (%) of ages and median ages (m) at maternity for the 1965-1970, 1975-1980 and 1985-1990 cohorts, by type of filiation loss and for all unmarried mothers

Source: DEN survey, INED, 1997.

38A study of the breakdown of occupations and socio-occupational categories (SOC) making up the 1965-1970 cohorts confirms the idea that, in the 1960s and 1970s, mothers whose children were abandoned and/or adopted were fairly similar to unmarried mothers, with similar proportions of women who are inactive, clerical workers or in an intermediate occupation in both groups (Figure 2b). The only exception was the higher proportion of women employed in personal services, which probably reflects the particularly disadvantaged situations of mothers in categories B and C. In the 1985-1990 cohorts, these mothers differ from single mothers as a whole, mainly because of the larger proportion of inactive mothers (over 70% of the total), which has repercussions on the other socio-occupational groups (fewer clerical workers compared with single parents as a whole, fewer manual workers). In short, in the 1960s and 1970s, when births outside marriage were fairly rare and occurred mostly among the working classes (Deville and Naulleau, 1982), these women were in a similar situation to that of single mothers as a whole. They now occupy a more marginalized position, in a context where births outside marriage are now a common occurrence in all social groups.

Figure 2b

Distribution (%) of SOCs of mothers for the 1965-1970, 1975-1980 and 1985-1990 cohorts, by type of filiation loss and for all unmarried mothers (SOC at time of birth)

Figure 2b

Distribution (%) of SOCs of mothers for the 1965-1970, 1975-1980 and 1985-1990 cohorts, by type of filiation loss and for all unmarried mothers (SOC at time of birth)

Source: DEN survey, INED, 1997.

39Mothers whose children lose paternal filiation only (Case A) have a specific profile for which it is difficult to draw conclusions based on available data. The timing of maternity among older cohorts was earlier than that of other mothers, perhaps due to the fact that children recognized by their father (and thus at risk of losing this paternal filiation) were born to young mothers more often than unrecognized children (Munoz-Pérez and Prioux, 2000). The breakdown by SOC reflects a less disadvantaged situation (less frequently inactive or working in personal services, more frequently clerical workers and in intermediate occupations), which seems to be consistent with the absence of child abandonment. Subsequent developments are difficult to interpret, but can be summed up as a convergence of category B and C mothers, although this is clearer for timing of maternity than it is for SOCs.

2 – Losses of filiation in children born inside marriage

General trends

40Unsurprisingly, legitimate filiation is much more stable than natural filiation (Table 3). In the 1965 and 1970 cohorts, about 26 out of 10,000 children born to married couples lost their filiation (paternal, or paternal and maternal), a proportion eleven times lower than that observed in children born outside marriage (Table 1).

Table 3

Losses of legitimate filiation, by cause, for 10,000 children born inside marriage between 1965 and 1994

Table 3
Reason for loss of filiation Child’s year of birth 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1994 Total filiation losses, of which: 25.8 26.3 10.9 6.4 4.5(b) 3.7 – (±3.6)(a) (±3.5) (±2.3) (±1.8) (±1.8) (±1.3) Cases D and E. Disavowal, challenge by remarried mother or recognition by a third party (loss of paternal filiation) 21 17.9 3.7 2.7 2.4 2.3 – (±3.2) (±2.9) (±1.3) (±1.2) (±1.3) (±1.0) Case F. Abandonment or adoption (loss of both filiations) 4.8 8.4 7.2 3.7 2.1 1.4 – Number of cases observed 205 227 95 53 23 20 – Note: The survey did not always make it possible to distinguish cases D and E in the birth certificates. (a) 95% confidence intervals in brackets. (b) Estimated values in italics. Source: DEN survey, INED, 1997.

Losses of legitimate filiation, by cause, for 10,000 children born inside marriage between 1965 and 1994

41More surprisingly, this gap remains for cohorts born in the 1980s and the early 1990s, even though filial ties are no longer as tenuous for both categories of children. While all types of filiation loss still affect some 40 out of 10,000 children born outside marriage in 1990, this proportion is less than 4 per 10,000 children born to married parents. The persistence of this gap between the two categories of children is even more striking given that the sociodemographic differences between married and unmarried couples are steadily narrowing.

In the past, loss of paternal filiation alone was most frequent

42In the first cohorts observed, most cases were losses of paternal filiation. About 20 out of 10,000 children born in 1965 or 1970 lost their filial relationship with their presumed father following disavowal or another type of challenge to paternity (Cases D and E). This relatively high frequency was linked in part to the complexity of divorce proceedings at that time. Many of the children disavowed by the mother’s husband were probably conceived after the couple’s separation.

43Both the 1972 reform, which allowed the remarried woman to challenge her ex-husband’s paternity, and the 1975 reform liberalizing divorce played an important role. Up to five or even ten years after their birth, a number of children from these cohorts experienced the loss of their legal paternal filiation, followed immediately by the acquisition of a new filiation in a good number of cases. Despite the late age at which some children lost their paternal filiation, such losses nonetheless occurred before age 3 in nearly half of cases, and before age 7 in three-quarters of cases (Table 4).

Table 4

Distribution, by age and type of filiation loss for children born inside marriage, by birth cohort (%)

Table 4
Cohort 1965-1970 1975-1980 1985-1990 1965-1970 1975-1980 1985-1990 Completed age D. E. Loss of paternal filiation F. Loss of both filiations Below age 3 50.2 22.9 31.3 3.2 6.1 26.9 Age 3-6 24.4 47.9 37.5 14.5 21.4 26.9 Age 7-12 11.9 22.9 31.3 (a) 33.1 48.0 34.6 Age 12+ 13.5 6.3 0.0 49.2 24.5 11.5 Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 Median age 3.0 5.3 5.0 12.1 9.3 6.4 (a) Estimated values in italics. Source: DEN survey, INED, 1997.

Distribution, by age and type of filiation loss for children born inside marriage, by birth cohort (%)

44Afterwards, the reforms had the opposite effect. By limiting the scope of presumption of paternity, the 1972 law trimmed down the number of disavowal proceedings. The liberalization of divorce instituted by the 1975 law also reduced the number of couples in which the woman remained legally married after the de facto separation. The drop in the number of paternal filiation losses is thus very pronounced in the 1975 cohort, but much less so in subsequent ones. For children born in 1990, we can estimate that slightly more than 2 out of 10,000 have lost their legitimate paternal filiation (Table 3). For the 1994 cohort, observed until age 3, no loss of paternal filiation was observed in the sample, doubtless because of the short observation period as well as the very low frequency of cases, probably equal to or below that of the 1990 cohort. The child’s age at the time of losing paternal filiation increased, due mainly to the fact that disavowals – an early event in the child’s life – had become increasingly rare. The median age rose from three to five years starting with the 1975-1980 cohorts (Table 4).

A delayed decrease in losses of both filiations

45For the first three cohorts, even after the increase observed for the 1970 cohort, loss of both filiations by abandonment or full adoption affected less than 10 out of 10,000 children born inside marriage. It was also much less frequent than the loss of paternal filiation alone. The loss of both filiations also affected much older children (median age of 12 for the 1965-1970 cohorts).

46It is difficult to explain the high number of abandonments or adoptions for older cohorts. Nonetheless, it is similar to figures observed for children born outside marriage during the same period (Cases A and B, Table 1 and Figure 1). Marriages brought about by the discovery of an unplanned pregnancy may have been broken up later on, sometimes leaving the mother and child in precarious situations that made it more likely for the child to be abandoned or given up for adoption.

47In the subsequent cohorts, the frequency of these types of filiation loss decreased slowly at first, and then more rapidly, approaching the levels observed for losses of paternal filiation. Finally, recent cohorts show that the loss of both filiations remains much rarer for children born inside marriage than for those born outside marriage, even though the gap has narrowed. It also takes place much later, despite the marked drop in the median age of the children in question (6.4 years for the 1985-1990 cohorts).

Estimated number of filiation losses in France

48Trends in the number of filiation losses are presented in Table 5. These figures were obtained by applying the rates from Tables 1 and 3 to the number of births inside and outside marriage recorded in France during the years corresponding to the studied cohorts. These figures therefore represent orders of magnitude. This table also shows acquisitions of a second filiation, an aspect covered in the following section.

Table 5

Estimated number of losses of filiation and acquisitions of a second filiation

Table 5
Losses of filiation Cohorts 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 Children born outside marriage 1,500 1,750 1,700 900 1,100 1,000 Loss of paternal filiation 350 550 600 400 600 550 Abandonment or adoption 1,150 1,200 1,100 500 500 450 Children born inside marriage 2,100 2,050 750 450 300 200 Loss of paternal filiation 1,700 1,400 250 200 150 125 Abandonment or adoption 400 650 500 250 150 75 All children 3,600 3,800 2,450 1,350 1,400 1,200 Loss of paternal filiation 2,050 1,950 850 600 750 675 Abandonment or adoption 1,550 1,850 1,600 750 650 525 Acquisition of a second filiation Cohorts 1965-1970 1975-1980 1985-1990 Paternal filiation 1,275 450 425 Children born outside marriage 150 250 300 Children born inside marriage  1,125  200 125 Adoption 1,350  1,050 550 Children born outside marriage  850  700 450 Children born inside marriage  500  350 100 Note: For losses of filiation, the categories used in this table are those of Table 1 for children born outside marriage, and those of Figure 3 for children born inside marriage. Source: DEN survey, INED, 1997.

Estimated number of losses of filiation and acquisitions of a second filiation

49A total of 3,600 children lost their paternal and/or maternal filiation in the 1965 cohort, 3,800 in the 1970 cohort (i.e. a mean of 4.5 children per thousand births); and 1,200 in the 1990 cohort (1.6 children per thousand births). The drop in numbers was less pronounced than the drop in rates (Tables 1 and 3), owing to the increasing weight of children born outside marriage, who are more exposed to such events, and whose losses of filiation now represent more than four-fifths of the total number, compared with less than half in the 1970s.

50In the older cohorts, the number of children who lost only their paternal filiation can be estimated at 2,000, a figure that drops to 700 for cohorts born in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, the share of children born outside marriage in this type of filiation loss increased from one-fifth to four-fifths. The number of children losing their original filiation due to abandonment with a request for parental anonymity or due to adoption stands at 1,850 for the 1970 cohort and is estimated at 500 for the 1990 cohort. The proportion represented by children born outside marriage (which already exceeded two-thirds in older cohorts) has increased and now represents more than four-fifths of all cases.

3 – Children acquiring a second filiation

51A child who has lost a filiation may acquire a new one. Our analysis of this event will first concern children who lost paternal filiation only (Example 12, Appendix 2), then children who were abandoned with request for parental anonymity or adopted, and who lost both paternal and maternal filiations. For each case, the analysis will focus on children born outside and inside marriage, respectively.

Children who have lost paternal filiation only

52The effect of censored observations may potentially be stronger here than it was for losses of filiation in general. Results from older cohorts nevertheless indicate that the large majority of second paternal filiations observed were acquired shortly after or even within a year of the loss of the first filiation (Table 6).

Table 6

Distribution of observed second paternal filiations, by time elapsed since the loss of first paternal filiation, 1965 to 1994 cohorts (per 100 second filiations)

Table 6
Time elapsed Cohort 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1994 Children born outside marriage (Case A, Table 1) Below 1 year 62.5 70.6 53.3 64.3 61.5 50.0 – 1-2 years 12.5 11.8 30.0 28.6 23.1 44.4 – 3-6 years 25.0 17.6 3.3 0.0 15.4 5.6 – 7-11 years 0.0 0.0 6.7 7.1 0.0 – – 12+ years 0.0 0.0 6.7 0.0 – – – Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 – Time elapsed Children born inside marriage (Case F, Table 3) Below 1 year 62.3 66.4 81.0 80.0 100.0 77.8 – 1-2 years 15.1 19.0 4.8 13.3 0.0 11.1 3-6 years 11.3 11.2 4.8 6.7 0.0 11.1 – 7-11 years 8.5 2.6 9.5 0.0 0.0 – – 12+ years 2.8 0.9 0.0 0.0 – – – Total 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 – Note: No acquisition of a second filiation was observed in the survey for the 1994 cohort. Source: DEN survey, INED, 1997.

Distribution of observed second paternal filiations, by time elapsed since the loss of first paternal filiation, 1965 to 1994 cohorts (per 100 second filiations)

53For children born outside marriage, challenge of paternal recognition (exercised by the mother or the author of the deed) was often linked to the existence of a new partner or the mother’s marriage. The annulment of the first paternity was followed rapidly by the establishment of the second one, and both acts could sometimes be pronounced in a single ruling. In more recent cohorts (1975, 1980 and 1985), these trends appear to hold. Nearly all acquisitions of a second filiation observed within seven years take place in the three years following the loss of the first one.

54For children born inside marriage, the acquisition of a new filiation among older cohorts also took place as early as for children born outside marriage. The child was often disavowed in favour of the real father, who could then recognize the child rapidly. In cases where the husband’s paternity was challenged by the remarried mother (an action authorized from 1972), loss of the original filiation went together with the acquisition of the new one.
Table 7 presents the final proportion of children acquiring a second paternal filiation. The values indicated for the 1965-1970 cohorts were directly observed in the survey. Those presented for the subsequent cohorts are estimates based on the experience of older cohorts, and should be taken as orders of magnitude. These cohorts were grouped by twos to minimize the effects of low numbers.

Table 7

Proportion of children with a second paternal filiation, for cohorts born between 1965 and 1990 (per 100 children who lost their filiation)

Table 7
Cohorts Born outside marriage(a) Born inside marriage(b) 1965-1970 1975-1980 1985-1990 1965-1970 1975-1980 1985-1990 Proportion 31.6 49.6(c) 49.2 72.3 82.3 86.9 Observed number of second filiations 25 44 31 222 36 18 (a) Children who lost their first paternal filiation through annulment of recognition (Case A, Table 1). (b) Children who lost their first paternal filiation through a ruling or by recognition by a second father (Cases D and E, Table 3). (c) Rates for which estimate apply are given in italics. Source: DEN survey, INED, 1997.

Proportion of children with a second paternal filiation, for cohorts born between 1965 and 1990 (per 100 children who lost their filiation)

55About one-third of children born outside marriage in 1965-1970 who lost their first paternal filiation (Case A) later had a second father. This proportion climbed to half in the 1975-1980 cohorts, then levelled off. The drop in losses of paternal filiation for subsequent cohorts, seen in Table 1, seems not to have been accompanied by a growing frequency of second filiations.

56For children born inside marriage, the chances of acquiring a second paternal filiation are much higher: seven out of ten children for the 1965-1970 cohorts, and eight to nine out of ten for the subsequent ones. Birth inside marriage not only considerably reduces the risk of losing paternal filiation, but – if this does occur – is more often followed by a new filiation. While understandable in the conditions that prevailed thirty or forty years ago, this twofold inequality in relation to children born outside marriage still persists for recent cohorts even though severance of paternal ties is now much rarer.
In the 1965-1970 cohorts, cases where children acquired a second paternal filiation numbered over 1,000 per year, falling to just over 400 a year in the 1985-1990 cohorts (Table 5), while the proportion of births outside marriage in these cases rose from 12% to 70%. Over the same period, the number of children who did not acquire a second paternal filiation fell from around 700 to 300 [11] and involved, with few exceptions, children born outside marriage. However, this figure represents a very small share of the children in France who remain fatherless for life. Another much larger category, that of children who were never recognized by their fathers, was not taken into account here. Their number is estimated at 20,000 for the cohorts born around 1990, compared with around 12,000 for the cohorts of the mid 1960s (Munoz-Pérez and Prioux, 2000). [12]

Children who are adopted after losing their original filiation

57In the past, for children born outside marriage, the loss of the original filiation often occurred upon abandonment with a concomitant request for parental anonymity. This represented four out of ten cases in the 1965-1970 cohorts and a third of cases in the 1975 cohort. In subsequent cohorts, on the other hand, the overwhelming majority of losses of original filiation were the result of adoption. Loss of filiation and acquisition of a second filiation were not distinguished, and the effect of censoring here was of a similar magnitude to that seen in observation of filiation losses themselves. The situation was much alike for children born inside marriage, as the number of adoptions with no prior abandonment and concomitant request for parental anonymity stood at between eight and nine children out of ten across the cohorts.

58Table 8 presents the proportion of children acquiring a second filiation via adoption after losing their original filiation (Table 1, Cases B and C for children outside marriage; Table 3, Case F for children born inside marriage). For more recent cohorts, this proportion is given as an order of magnitude.

59For children born outside marriage, the proportion is relatively modest for older cohorts, as abandonments with a request for anonymity, which are relatively common, were rarely followed by adoption. In recent cohorts, such abandonments are rarer, and allow the automatic link implied by full adoption – between the loss of the original filiation and the acquisition of a new one – to come into play.
With children born inside marriage, the frequency of acquiring a new filiation through adoption remained high, at more than nine out of ten children. For the 1985-1990 cohorts, the value is slightly lower due to the uncertainty of the estimate, which is based on a small number of cases. We can conclude that the overwhelming majority of children who lose their original filiation – under the definition used for this study – acquire a new filiation.

Table 8

Proportion of children acquiring a second filiation through adoption after losing their original filiation, cohorts born between 1965 and 1990 (per 100 children who lost their original filiation)

Table 8
Children born outside marriage Children born inside marriage 1965-1970 1975-1980 1985-1990 1965-1970 1975-1980 1985-1990 Proportion 71.4 86.8 92.9 (a) 91.3 92.9 88.2 Number of acquisitions observed 160 165 79 116 91 17 (a) Estimated values are in italics. Source: Enquête DEN, INED, 1997.

Proportion of children acquiring a second filiation through adoption after losing their original filiation, cohorts born between 1965 and 1990 (per 100 children who lost their original filiation)

60Among children born in 1965-1970, 1,300 to 1,400 children acquired a second filiation through adoption (Table 5), of whom two-thirds were born outside marriage. Twenty years later, they numbered 500 to 600, four-fifths of whom were born outside marriage. If the adoptions of children born without filiation (not studied in this article) [13] are added, the total for children born in France in 1985-1990 is between 1,200 and 1,300. This range includes the 1,200 full adoptions estimated on the basis of the Ministry of Justice survey for 1992 (Ministère de la Justice, 1996), excluding adoptions by the original parent’s partner. This convergence confirms the reliability of the results from the DEN survey. [14]

61Correlatively, the number of children abandoned with request for parental anonymity and who remained without any filiation fell from 300-400 in the 1965-1970 cohorts to a few dozen in recent cohorts. These figures can be compared with the hundred or so children born without any filiation in the 1990 cohorts, who were never recognized by their parents, and who did not benefit from full adoption (Munoz-Pérez, 2000).

4 – Recent developments in losses of filiation

62The 1997 survey covered relatively old cohorts. How have more recent cohorts fared? Statistics of court rulings, published by the Ministry of Justice, provide some information about losses of filiation, but do not supply data regarding the acquisition of a second filiation.

63Among the categories included in the legal statistics, those used here correspond to losses of filiation and to legal declarations of abandonment that serve to indicate trends in the severance of filial ties, even though such ties are not actually cut. [15] Legal statistics only began drawing a distinction between children born inside and outside marriage in 1988. Prior to this, such a distinction can still be made by referring to the relevant articles of the Civil Code. For example, disavowal of paternity could only apply to legal filiation, while annulment of recognition necessarily applied to natural filiation. However, it was impossible to draw distinctions for adoptions or declarations of abandonment, as these were classified under natural filiation given that they generally involved children born outside marriage. Last, the imprecise classification system used from 1981 to 1987 interrupted the tracking of certain forms of filiation loss.

Children born outside marriage

64Figure 3 presents rates for full adoption (children born in France), legal declaration of abandonment and annulment of recognition. [16] Generally speaking, changes in adoption rates match those observed in the survey (Figure 1, cases B and C), given the age of the children at the time that adoption or abandonment is declared by the court. [17] The fall observed between the 1975 and 1980 cohorts, and the subsequent levelling off are mirrored here in the very sharp drop from 1970 and 1983 and the rapid stabilization that followed. This correspondence is also seen in the statistics for legal declarations of abandonment. [18]

Figure 3

Annual rates of full adoptions, legal declarations of abandonment and annulments of paternal recognition, for 10,000 children born outside marriage, 1967-2005

Figure 3
  • Note: Statistics for challenges of recognition have only existed since 1988.

Annual rates of full adoptions, legal declarations of abandonment and annulments of paternal recognition, for 10,000 children born outside marriage, 1967-2005

Source: Ministry of Justice and author’s estimates for adoption.

65The drop in the number of adoptions and declarations of abandonment in the 1990s and early 2000s confirms the decrease in losses of filiation observed in the 1990 and 1994 cohorts, for which the small number of cases observed in the survey could give rise to uncertainties. The data also suggest that the low level of this type of filiation loss continues to apply to cohorts born in the 2000s.

66The lack of data for annulments of paternal recognition prior to 1988 makes it impossible to verify the major trends revealed by the survey. Nonetheless, the observations made from 1988 shed light on the most recent cohorts. Despite a slight increase in the 1990s, the level remained relatively stable as a whole for the period analysed, at 25 to 35 annulments of recognition for 10,000 children born outside marriage. This level is quite compatible with the value estimated in the survey for the 1990 cohort (25 ± 5.2 for 10,000, Table 1, Case A) and which, given its stability, is probably also the level for birth cohorts up to the mid-1990s.
The legal statistics thus appear to bear out the trends identified in the survey concerning losses of filiation for children born outside marriage, including the continuing decrease since 1985.

Children born inside marriage

67Figure 4 presents the rulings that sever the paternal filial relationship within marriage. It distinguishes the three cases that can be identified in the legal statistics: disavowal, challenge of the husband’s paternity by the remarried mother, and other challenges of legitimate paternal filiation (from 1988).

Figure 4

Annual rates of disavowals, challenges by the remarried mother, and other challenges of paternal filiation, for 10,000 children born inside marriage, 1957-2005

Figure 4
  • Note: Statistics for disavowals and challenges by the remarried mother were suspended between 1981 and 1987. Those for “other contestations of paternal filiation” were first published in 1988.

Annual rates of disavowals, challenges by the remarried mother, and other challenges of paternal filiation, for 10,000 children born inside marriage, 1957-2005

Source: Ministry of Justice.

68As with children born outside marriage, we observe that the trends match the survey results. Disavowal rates, relatively high until the early 1970s, dropped steeply after 1972 for the reasons mentioned earlier, following a pattern similar to the fall observed for losses of paternal filiation between the 1970-1975 cohorts (Table 3, Cases D and E). Challenges by the mother after remarriage, authorized by the 1972 law, peaked in 1975 and then dropped. The break between the 1970 and 1975 cohorts is again visible here.

69In the 1990s, challenges of legitimate paternal filiation became extremely rare, at 1 to 3 cases per 10,000 children depending on the grounds. In this context of rarity, and up to 2000, the continued decline in disavowals was offset by trends in challenges by the remarried mother and in other challenges of paternal filiation. The overall level thus fluctuates, with a slight upward trend, although a clear decrease is observed in recent years.

70Transposed in terms of cohorts, the gradual increase observed up to 2000 suggests that there was a similar increase in cohorts born around 1985 and those born around 1990-1995, although the survey identified a decrease, admittedly very slight. This reveals some relative disagreements between the two sources, though the differences are very small. [19]
Aside from this reservation, legal statistics confirm the low rate of losses of paternal filiation inside marriage for the most recent cohorts observed by the survey and, quite probably, for the cohorts born a few years later.


71Neither the considerable development of de facto unions over the past few decades, the growing number of union dissolutions, nor the subsequent increase in cases of reconstituted families have led to greater instability of the filial tie itself, even though some of these changes have profoundly modified children’s familial and affective environment. Today, this tie is more stable than it was some forty years ago, for children born inside as well as outside marriage. Losses of paternal filiation, as well as losses of double filiation, have become rarer, relatively speaking, and also affect fewer children. At the same time, the frequency of acquiring a second filiation has either increased or remained at a high level, while the proportion of children with no father or no parents at all has decreased. [20]

72However, children born outside marriage continue to experience higher rates of filiation losses compared with children born inside marriage, even though their current familial context is very different from the situation in the 1960s. The fragility of filial relationships brought about by certain situations affecting these children up to the 1970s is now a thing of the past.

73By reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies, the development of contraception and the liberalization of abortion laws played a decisive role in reinforcing filiation, in particular for births outside marriage. The 1972 reform also played a fundamental role by allowing recognition of children born in adultery and by preferring biological fact over the presumption of paternity for the husband (limitation of the scope of such presumption, mother’s entitlement to challenge paternity). [21] Liberalization of divorce in 1975 led to greater conformity between legal and de facto situations.

74The heightened stability of filiation today is thus largely associated with the legislative changes that took place in the 1960s and 1970s. They were brought about by sweeping social and cultural transformations that marked the era: the quest for equality alongside greater individual autonomy and freedom of choice, for women in particular. Paradoxically, these transformations were also at the root of other changes that led to more discontinuous and varied individual trajectories: more diverse forms of union, an increase in separations, more frequent successive unions, a greater number of reconstituted families, etc.
The results presented here show that such developments do not appear to have consequences on filiation itself. On the contrary, filiation has been reinforced and remains a strong aspect of continuity in the life of children and their parents, probably even more so now than in the past. The reinforcement of the filial relationship should be taken into consideration when analysing contemporary changes in family structures and the increased instability of conjugal ties.


Appendix 1. European legislation in matters of filiation

75Sources: Granet-Lambrechts, 2007; Sénat, 2000; Meulders-Klein, 1988.

Paternal filiation

Children born inside marriage

76The presumption of paternity of the mother’s husband is a general principle in Europe. The conditions for the application of this principle in France, which relate primarily to the time or circumstances of conception, are similar to those that exist elsewhere.

77The right to contest legitimate paternal filiation exists in all European countries. As has been the case in France since 1972, such challenges have become easier, with a view to attributing true filiation to a child. In a number of countries (Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Italy), the period during which a husband can disavow a child has been extended, at times exceeding the period established in France in 1972. There is often a limit imposed by the child’s age, however. In nearly all European countries, the husband is no longer the sole person entitled to challenge his putative paternity. The child (through his or her representative), the mother, or both can do so (Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Denmark). As in France, the husband’s paternity can also be challenged by the man claiming to be the true father (Spain, Germany), or by any interested party (United Kingdom). Note that in France, legitimate paternity cannot be contested when it is accompanied by possession of status (Code civil, Article 322, 1995-1996).

Children born outside marriage

78In the legislations of European countries (except English law), voluntary paternal recognition is the general means of establishing paternity outside marriage. Possession of status is a valid means of establishing paternal filiation if it is recorded in an attested affidavit in France, and noted by a legal ruling in Italy. Less commonly used, the legal declaration of filiation exists in all countries, based on proof that is generally provided by biological evidence.

79Countries differ in the degree and means of control of recognition. In France, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Austria, paternal recognition is strictly a matter of the putative father alone, with no a priori verification of its veracity. In a larger number of countries, the father’s freedom to recognize the child is limited. When the child is a minor, the mother’s consent is required in Spain, Greece, Germany (since 1998), Poland, Italy (if the child is under 16), Belgium, Hungary and the Netherlands. In most of these countries, the child’s consent is required if s/he has reached the age of majority. In many countries, the putative father may apply for recognition through the courts if the mother or child refuse. In Portugal, only the child’s consent is required, and only if s/he has reached the age of majority.

80In England, recognition – as the concept is generally understood in mainland Europe – does not exist per se. The child’s presumed father is the one whose name appears on the birth certificate, with his consent and at the mother’s request. Finally, based on a very different philosophy, in the legislation of Scandinavian countries, paternity must be established, even without the mother’s consent, because the public authorities believe that the person who fathered the child should provide for the child’s needs.

81In Europe as a whole, legislation on contestation of paternity outside of marriage varies from country to country, and the stability of the filial relationship is – in theory – guaranteed. In France, paternal recognition can be contested by any interested party (the mother, the child, the author of the recognition, a third party), including the state. But if there is possession of status consistent with recognition in the ten years following such recognition, its contestation is only open to the child, the mother, or the person claiming to be the true father. Italy entitles any interested party to contest paternity (with no period of limitation). In Belgium this is also the case, except that the author of the recognition cannot challenge it and, like in France, contestation is not possible if recognition is corroborated by possession of status. In England, the father designated in the register of births can be later contested by the author or any interested party (with no period of limitation) in the case of a conflict calling paternity into question. Conditions are more restrictive in other countries. They may be tied to the bearer of the suit and/or periods of limitation for the action, and in some cases, to the age of the child. In Germany, recognition can only be contested by the child, the mother, or its author, within a two-year period. In Greece, contestation is available to the child or the child’s descendants, in certain cases to grandparents and – since 2001 – to the person claiming to be the true father. The period of limitation is two years after discovery of recognition, and the suit is extinguished two years after the declaration of recognition or two years after the child reaches the age of majority. Similar conditions exist in Poland and the Netherlands, where only the child or the child’s descendants can contest recognition.
Unlike for paternity inside marriage, French legislation lags behind a good number of countries in ensuring stability of filiation, even though the problem is mitigated by allowing recourse in certain cases to possession of status, which is not used or less important in the rest of Europe.

Maternal filiation

82The question of substitute maternity, or surrogate motherhood (“mères porteuses”) is an issue of current debate in France. Such practices are illegal in the majority of European countries.

83In Europe, there is a consensus over the establishment of maternal filiation, whether inside or outside marriage. The general principle is that the woman who gave birth and whose name appears on the birth certificate is the mother, except in Italy (and in France for many years) where maternal recognition is required to establish filiation outside marriage.

84The mother’s name must be recorded on the birth certificate except in France, Italy and Luxembourg, where anonymous delivery is thus allowed. Anonymous delivery was once authorized in Spain, but the mother’s name has been required on the birth certificate since 1999. That said, given a situation were few children are available for adoption, some countries are somewhat lenient in this respect. In Belgium, Austria and Germany, measures were taken to allow women to leave infants to the care of the authorities without indicating their names. Children abandoned in this way and not reclaimed by their mother can be adopted. In Austria, anonymous delivery was recently decriminalized.


85French legislation is in line with what appears to be the norm for Europe. In Italy, the adoption of minors (distinct from that of majors since 1983) severs legal links with the original family, as it does in Germany (for the adoption of minors), Belgium (for full adoption), and Switzerland. In Spain, adoption erases links with the original family, except when the child has only one established filiation and this parent does not have the same sex as the adoptive parent, provided that the latter requests it. In all these countries, as in France, adoption of the spouse’s child does not sever the child’s filiation with the spouse.

Appendix 2. Examples of losses and changes of filiation in France

86Names and places are fictitious. Dates have been changed, but the intervals separating the different events mentioned in the certificate remain unchanged.

87Example 1 reproduces the full content of the birth certificate. Other examples only provide the information relevant to the topic.
[Example 1]
“HERVE MICHEL, male, was born on the first of March nineteen hundred and seventy, at 5 a.m., at 85 rue Thiers, to Frédérique GUERNAIN, born on the fifteenth of January nineteen hundred and forty-eight in Turin (Italy), unemployed, residing in La Rochelle, 25, rue de la Course.”
“Recorded on the second of March nineteen hundred and seventy at 3 p.m. following the declaration of Rose MEXIER, forty years old, midwife at the Beausseret clinic, residing in Nantes, who, after hearing and being invited to read this act, hereby affixes her signature alongside mine, Alain THEBAULT, Section Head, Civil Registrar.” Signatures.
The following remarks were written in the margin of the certificate:
1. “Recognized by his mother on 7 March 1970 at this town hall. 9 March 1970, the Civil Registrar”, signature.
2. “Recognized at this town hall on 16 August 1971 by Manuel FIZ, industrial painter, residing in Bordeaux, 5 avenue de Verdun, born in Oran (Algeria) on 15 June 1935.” “17 August 1971”, signature.
3. “The Tribunal de grande instance [TGI, court of first instance] of Nantes has declared on 21 May 1974 that Manuel FIZ, born in Oran (Algeria) on 15 June 1935, is not the father of the child Hervé Michel and that filiation is only established with respect to his mother Frédérique GUERNAIN.”“18 July 1974”, signature.
The statement of paternal recognition dated 16 August 1971 was crossed out.
Child born outside marriage whose paternal recognition is annulled.
[Example 2]
Jean, born outside marriage on 08/01/1985, was recognized by his mother C.B. before his birth, on 07/11/1984. He was recognized by the father on 29/01/1987. Marriage of the parents legitimized the child on 03/03/1987.
On 14/12/1990, paternal recognition and legitimation were annulled by a ruling of the TGI, with the means of execution indicated in the margin of the certificate: “annuls the recognition of 29/01/1987 and the subsequent legitimation, and declares Jean to be the natural child of C.B. (the mother). Declares that he shall bear the mother’s last name, that is, B”.
Annulment of paternal recognition, and, consequently, legitimation by marriage of the parents.
[Example 3]
Annette, born on 12/05/1985, with the mother’s name appearing on the birth certificate, with no explicit mention of recognition. Recognized by the father on 10/12/1988. Statement written on 12/03/1990: “Provisional certificate established based on recommendation of youth welfare office”.
Child recognized by the father. Abandoned at age 4 with a request for parental anonymity.
[Example 4]
Monique, born outside marriage on 14/10/1980, is recognized by the mother on 16/10/1980 and by the father on 05/12/1981. On 09/02/1983 the following is written on the margin of the birth certificate: “Adoption (attached documents no. /1983)”. The birth certificate was crossed out.
Child recognized by the father and mother, then fully adopted at the age of 2 years.
[Example 5]
Marie, born outside marriage on 13/06/1965, with the mother’s name appearing on the certificate, with no explicit mention of maternal recognition. Statement written on the birth certificate on 18/02/1966: “Provisional birth certificate established in application of ordinances dated 23/08/1958 and 23/12/1958 of the Instruction générale relative à l’État civil…”. Statement written on 19/05/1968: “Adoption. attached documents…”.
Child not recognized by the father, abandoned with request for parental anonymity, before being adopted at age 2.
[Example 6]
Frédéric, born on 19/02/1965, recognized by his mother on 28/09/1965. Ruling made on 23/06/1970: “Recognition of B.C. annulled by a ruling of the TGI of A.” The following statement was written in the margin of the birth certificate: “Full adoption on 24/03/1977, transcribed on 03/05/1977”.
Child recognized by the mother, then adopted at age 5.
[Example 7]
René, born on 18/09/1970, with no parent recorded on the certificate. Maternal recognition is mentioned on 10/12/1970. On 10/05/1971, the following statement is written on the margin of the crossed-out certificate: “Provisional certificate established upon recommendation of the regional director for the social and health services of 18/04/1971”.
Child born with no established filiation (born anonymously), later recognized by the mother, followed by abandonment and request for secrecy of the mother’s identity.
[Example 8]
Cécile, born on 15/11/1970 to married parents. On 30/06/1971 the execution of a ruling by the TGI of N. is written on the birth certificate: “Pronounces the disavowal by Mr. M.K. of the minor named opposite and declares that she cannot bear the name of V. who is not her father and to whose family she does not belong”. Paternal recognition made by B.F. dated 12/10/1971 is written on the margin. Another statement on the margin reads: “Legitimized by marriage of the parents on 25/03/1972. She shall henceforth bear the surname F.” (name of the new husband).
Disavowal of the husband, followed by paternal recognition and legitimation.
[Example 9]
Child born inside marriage on 15/01/1970 to J.F., mother, housewife, and E.L., driver. On 18/10/1976, a ruling was made, which stated: “…the TGI declares that the child Jeanne Lomais, born to J.F., is not the daughter of E.L. and does not belong to his family; pronounces the legitimation of J.L. by virtue of the marriage of J.F. to N.R. born in B.B. (Algeria); declares that the child shall henceforth bear the surname R.” Written on 21/12/1976.
Contestation of paternity and legitimation by the remarried mother.
[Example 10]
Véronique, born on 17/01/1975 to married parents. On 05/04/1983, the following statement was added to the birth certificate: “…declares that the person concerned is not the daughter of J.L. (the mother’s husband, who is named in the birth certificate), validates the recognition established on 15/09/1980 by G.P. The concerned party shall bear the surname of her father in place of her mother’s”.
Validation of the recognition of a child born inside marriage.
[Example 11]
Eric, born inside marriage on 08/11/1975 to a mother, housewife and a father, mason. Statement written on the birth certificate on 27/10/1980: “Adoption attached documents no. 128/1980…” The birth certificate was crossed out.
Adoption of a child born inside marriage.
[Example 12]
Child born outside marriage on 28/01/1981, with the mother as the sole parent recorded on the birth certificate, who recognizes the child at the time of the declaration of birth. Paternal recognition by H.M. was made on 20/11/1982. On 02/01/1983, the mother’s marriage with H.M. legitimizes the child. On 21/07/1986, a ruling is made and the following statement is written on the certificate on 29/10/1986: “By the ruling of…: 1/ The aforementioned recognition has been annulled 2/declares as valid the recognition of this child by Mr. A.B born in Algeria on 15/10/1953, done in Paris 18e on 07/12/1982; 3/declares that this child will henceforth bear the surname of B.” (the name of the new father).
Annulment of recognition and validation of a second one. Child born outside marriage.


  • [*]
    Institut national d’études démographiques.
    Correspondence: Francisco-Munoz Pérez, Institut national d’études démographiques, 133 boulevard Davout, 75980 Paris Cedex 20, tel.: +33 (0)1 56 06 21 18, e-mail:
  • [1]
    Motivated by a pragmatic and egalitarian mindset, the Act of 03/01/1972 gave children born outside marriage, once recognized, practically the same rights as children born within marriage. The law also sought to create a better correspondence between legal filiation and biological and/or social filiation. The last forms of discrimination penalizing children born outside marriage in terms of inheritance were abolished by the Act of 03/12/2001. Finally, the ordinance of 04/07/2005 removed all distinctions between children born inside and outside marriage from the Civil Code, except for the means of establishing filiation. The concepts of legitimate filiation and illegitimate (or natural) filiation consequently disappeared; we shall, however, be obliged to use these terms occasionally in this article.
  • [2]
    All information regarding the sampling plan and the survey method can be found in Munoz-Pérez and Prioux (1999).
  • [3]
    Full adoption totally erases the child’s filiation of origin, unlike simple adoption, which keeps the former filiation alongside the new one (Act of 11/07/1966).
  • [4]
    When a child is abandoned with a request for parental anonymity, or secrecy of filiation, a statement is written on the margin of the birth certificate indicating that a new “provisional” birth certificate (acte provisoire de naissance) has been established for the child (Act of 23/08/1958) and on which the name(s) of the child’s parent(s) no longer appear. This new document is then considered to be the child’s birth certificate, and the child may be given new forenames and a new surname. The date of birth is recorded, but not necessarily the place of birth.
  • [5]
    In the 1980s, for example, only 5% of the children placed in the care of youth welfare offices as pupilles de l’État, and therefore adoptable, were orphans.
  • [6]
    Included here are children born anonymously (“nés sous X”), i.e. born to an anonymous mother (authorized by French law) and recognized by her after delivery, and then later abandoned for good. In France, the number of children born anonymously fell from around 2,000 in 1965 to 1,000 in 1994; the corresponding proportions are, respectively, 380 per 10,000 and 17 per 10,000 children born outside marriage (F. Munoz-Pérez, 2000). In 2007, the number of such births was estimated at below 800 (ONED, 2009).
  • [7]
    In 1970, the family allowance (allocation de soutien familial) was created, intended for orphans and single mothers of children with no established paternal filiation. The measure was reinforced in 1976 by the creation of the single parent allowance.
  • [8]
    The law decriminalizing abortion was promulgated on 17/01/1975, but abortion probably became increasingly common in the preceding years. Legislation on contraception dates back to December 1967, although its first implementing orders were not published until 1972. It is estimated that between 1965 and 1972, the number of unwanted pregnancies fell from around 180,000 to 100,000 (Leridon et al., 1987, pp. 269-281).
  • [9]
    In this table, cohorts are grouped by twos to reduce the impact of small sample sizes that appear when the age groups are separated. The same grouping was applied to some of the tables presented later.
  • [10]
    Given the distribution of the events observed, the lowered age is not (except perhaps for a small proportion) attributable to possible underestimation of the censoring effect linked to the retrospective study.
  • [11]
    These numbers were either obtained from Table 5, by subtracting the acquisitions of second filiations from the corresponding losses of filiation, or by applying the complements of the proportions in Table 7 to the latter.
  • [12]
    In the most recent years, the order of magnitude of this figure remained the same because the proportion of children recognized by their fathers increases in step with the number of births outside marriage.
  • [13]
    Except when the child was recognized by the original parent(s) after birth, before the definitive abandonment.
  • [14]
    Given the age of children at adoption (a median age of 5-6 years), the great majority of children adopted in 1992 belong to the 1985-1990 cohorts.
  • [15]
    The request for a declaration of abandonment dates back to the Act of 11/07/1966 on adoption. A child taken into care by a private individual or organization or by youth welfare services, whose parents have demonstrated lack of interest for a full year preceding the request, may be declared abandoned by the court.
  • [16]
    The events observed each year involve children of varying ages. Annual rates were therefore calculated as the ratio between the number of events occurring each year and a weighted average of births observed in the year in question and in preceding years. Weighting coefficients are based on the age-distribution of events observed in the 1997 survey (for annulments of recognition) or on statistics for pupilles de l’État (for adoptions and declarations of abandonment; Ministry for Social Affairs, 1989 to 2002).
  • [17]
    Rulings for adoption and abandonment essentially occur between ages 1 and 6, with a high concentration in the second year of age.
  • [18]
    The rise in the number of declarations of abandonment until 1976-1977 is harder to explain, on the other hand. Statistics for declarations of abandonment were only recorded from 1970, which would at least account for the increase observed in the early 1970s.
  • [19]
    This disagreement disappears if we take into account the confidence intervals of the survey findings.
  • [20]
    The same is true for the number of these children, except if those who never enjoyed paternal recognition are considered. In this case, the total number of children who remain fatherless has increased since the 1960s.
  • [21]
    We cannot help but note a link between this aspect of the 1972 law and the freedom granted to married women by the Act of 13/07/1965 to pursue a working career, while placing them on equal footing with their husband in the management of family assets.


A survey conducted by INED in 1997 using civil records as well as recent legal statistics retraced the way losses of paternal and of double filiation have evolved since the 1960s in France. The major shifts in conjugal behaviour during this period were not accompanied by further instability in filiation, and children are less likely to suffer now from loss of filiation than they were thirty or forty years ago. Children born outside marriage, those most affected by losses of filiation in the past, benefit the most from this greater stability. So do children born within marriage, for whom loss of filiation is very rare nowadays. Many children who have lost their paternal filiation benefit from a second filiation, particularly when the child is born in marriage. The vast majority of those who lose their double filiation obtain a new one, whether or not they were born in marriage.


Pertes et changements de filiation chez les enfants nés en France depuis les années 1960


Une enquête réalisée par l’Ined en 1997 à partir des registres d’état civil, complétée par des statistiques judiciaires sur la période récente, a permis de retracer l’évolution des pertes de la filiation paternelle et de la double filiation depuis les années 1960 en France. Les profondes transformations conjugales survenues au cours de cette période ne se sont pas accompagnées d’une plus grande instabilité du lien de filiation ; au contraire les enfants souffrent moins souvent de la rupture de ce lien qu’il y a trente ou quarante ans. Cette plus grande stabilité bénéficie surtout aux enfants nés hors mariage, jadis les plus affectés par les ruptures de filiation, mais aussi les enfants nés dans le mariage, pour lesquels ces ruptures ont aujourd’hui quasiment disparu. Bon nombre d’enfants ayant perdu leur filiation paternelle ont bénéficié d’une deuxième filiation, en particulier lorsque l’enfant est né dans le mariage. L’immense majorité de ceux qui ont perdu leur double filiation en bénéficient à nouveau, qu’ils soient nés hors ou dans le mariage.


Pérdidas y cambios de filiación en los niños nacidos en Francia desde los años 1960


Una encuesta realizada por el Ined en 1997 en los registros del estado civil, completada por las estadísticas judiciales para el período más reciente, ha permitido reconstituir la evolución de las pérdidas de la filiación paterna y de la doble filiación (materna y paterna) desde los años 1960. Las profundas transformaciones conyugales sobrevenidas durante ese período no se han acompañado de una mayor inestabilidad del lazo de filiación; al contrario, los niños sufren menos frecuentemente de la ruptura de dicho lazo que hace treinta o cuarenta años. Esta mayor estabilidad beneficia sobre todo a los niños nacidos fuera del matrimonio, los más afectados tradicionalmente por las rupturas de filiación, pero también a los nacidos en el matrimonio, para los cuales esas rupturas casi han desaparecido actualmente. Una buena parte de los niños que han perdido su filiación paterna han beneficiado de una segunda filiación, particularmente si el niño ha nacido en el matrimonio. La inmensa mayoría de los que han perdido la doble filiación benefician de nuevo de otra, tanto en el caso de los nacidos en el matrimonio como en los nacidos fuera de él.


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Francisco Munoz-Pérez [*]
  • [*]
    Institut national d’études démographiques.
    Correspondence: Francisco-Munoz Pérez, Institut national d’études démographiques, 133 boulevard Davout, 75980 Paris Cedex 20, tel.: +33 (0)1 56 06 21 18, e-mail:
Translated by
Emily Divinagracia
This is the latest publication of the author on cairn.
Uploaded on on 03/03/2014
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