parent and child, legal relationship, created by biological (birth) relationship or by adoption, that confers certain rights and duties on parent and child; in some states the courts have given the nonbiological, nonadoptive partner of a parent standing as a parent in a legal context. Parents are ordinarily obliged to support the child (to provide "necessaries"), and they have the right to his or her custody and control. The father's right was long superior, but courts today, in custody disputes, favor either the father or the mother, whichever is deemed better suited to rear the child. In case of divorce, custody may be granted to either parent or divided between them. Although courts are reluctant to intervene in family matters, custody may be awarded to other persons or to an institution when neither parent is held fit to perform the duties of parenthood (see guardian and ward). The mother of an illegitimate child has the right to its custody; the father usually must contribute to support; legitimation occurs when the parents of an illegitimate child marry. Whoever has the lawful custody of a child has the right to control and punish him or her, so long as the means used are not excessive. In some cases when the income of a child is substantial, current earnings can be held in trust until the child reaches adulthood. Emancipation is the dissolution of the parent-child relationship. It may occur if the parents abandon the child, or at the parents' option (but usually not before the child is 18 years old), or when the child marries or attains majority. For the sociological and psychological aspects of the relationship, see family.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.