bastard, person born out of wedlock whose legal status is illegitimacy. In civil law countries and in about half the states of the United States, the union of the parents in marriage after birth makes the child legitimate. It is presumed that any child born to a married woman, or within competent time after termination of the marriage, is the child of her husband. If, however, it can be proved that it was physically impossible for the husband to have been the father (e.g., because of nonaccess to the wife), he may bring action to establish the illegitimacy of the child. Unlike civil law, which granted bastards certain rights, English common law treated them almost as persons outside the law and left their care to poorhouses. At common law bastards have no right to inherit property from their mother or father except by specific designation (e.g., in a will). In the mid-20th cent. their condition has been much improved by statute. Discrimination against children born out of wedlock is now subject to constitutional limitation under the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment. For the status of children born to annulled marriages, see nullity of marriage; husband and wife. See also legitimation.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.