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Marriage: legitimacy and adoption

A long-running campaign in the 1920s by the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child (founded in 1918) resulted in the passage of the Legitimacy Act in 1926.

Legitimacy Act 1926

This enabled children to be legitimated by the subsequent marriage of their parents, provided that neither parent had been married to someone else at the time of conception (that is, that the relationship was not an adulterous one).

The Bill was piloted through the House of Commons by Neville Chamberlain, the future prime minister, who was a vice-president of the Council.

Legitimacy Act 1959

In 1959 a new Legitimacy Act extended legitimacy to the children of parents who had not been free to marry at the time of their birth, but who had married subsequently. The Act effectively ended the discrimination against children who had been born as a result of adulterous relationships.

Family Law Reform Act 1969

A new turning point was reached in the Family Law Reform Act of 1969 which allowed people born outside marriage to inherit on the intestacy of either parent. For the first time the law courts could order blood tests in cases of disputed paternity, though these had been available since the 1930s.

Family Reform Act 1987

The Family Law Reform Act of 1987 removed all remaining legal distinctions between children born to married and unmarried parents.

Adoption Act 1926

Various bills and several parliamentary committees during the 1920s had tried to arrive at legal procedures for the adoption of children. Although adoption did take place, it had no legal sanction and adopted children did not have the rights of natural children.

The Adoption Act which was passed in 1926 introduced adoption procedures for the first time.

Adoption Act 1949

A tightening of regulations was undertaken in the Adoption Act of 1949. It required a probationary period of three months to be completed under the supervision of a local authority, before an adoption order was granted. It also laid down that a mother could not consent to adoption until her child was at least six weeks old.

Adoption Act 1976

The Adoption Act 1976 allowed adoptees the right to see their original birth certificate and other information relating to their biological parents.

Related information

Historic Hansard

The House of Commons debates the Second Reading of the Family Law Reform Bill

The House of Commons debates the Second Reading of the Adoption of Children Bill