An upcoming talk by Caius Law Fellow Professor Jens Scherpe, given as part of the University’s 30th Alumni Festival, aims to explore the changing dynamics of the modern family, and the legal complications this may pose.
Professor Scherpe, an internationally renowned expert on Family Law, explains that this particular legal field was, for a long time, only centered on one specific family unit: a man and a woman with children united in (indissoluble) marriage. But we now live in a world where marriages often end in divorce; where an increasing number of children grow up in families that do not conform with the ‘traditional’ family; where categories of gender are not as fixed as they used to be; where persons legally classified as men can give birth to children; where some persons are not legally classified as male or female; where children are not necessarily genetically related to (all) their legal parents and indeed may have three genetic parents, and even more social parents. Until now the law has been too slow to react to societal changes and medical advances, and these issues now need to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
Jens suggests that the traditional, gendered allocation of parental positions is outdated, as is the limitation to two persons holding said parental positions. He said, “In order to accommodate all existing family forms, the parental position could (and perhaps should) be split into three levels. The first, parentage, should be allocated to those who have a genetic or biological relation to the child (so may include the surrogate). The second, parenthood, is the legal status of being a parent in the narrower sense. The third, parental responsibility, can be allocated to any person having a significant parental function with regard to the child.
“None of these legal positions by necessity need to be limited to two persons, and my lecture suggests that they should not be. While the exact legal consequences deriving from the allocation of parentage, parenthood and parental responsibility of course will be (and perhaps should be) different from jurisdiction to account for societal and cultural difference, breaking up the parental position into these three parts would enable the legal systems to deal adequately with modern family law constellations.”
Jens’ lecture is based on a published plenary lecture given at the International Society of Family Law’s World Conference in Amsterdam in July 2017, and will be presented as part of the University of Cambridge’s Alumni Festival on Friday, 18 September 2020, 6.30pm. For those unable to attend, the event will be recorded and will be available to watch on-demand afterwards.