Equal Rights to Parents: The Paternity Procedure in Sweden

Nathalie le Bouteillec, Ined

In 1917, the legal framework in Sweden concerning non-marital parenting was changed in order to provide for the children born out of wedlock. Before 1917, maternity and paternity outside marriage were conditional on the parents'' willingness to recognize a child. The law on children born out of wedlock changed the rights of these children by ending the anonymous childbirth and imposing the designation of a father. The mother could not refuse the maternity of the child. The right of the child to know its origins was opposed to the rights of the parents to remain anonymous. The parents also had to provide the child with care and education, thus to take responsibility for the child in a way which attests to the recognition of family ties outside of marriage.

We explore the development of the search for paternity since the adoption of the law of 1917 until today in Sweden. We begin with the legislative debates during the preparation of this law. We then analyse the modalities provided by this law to the practices of paternity research. We trace the history of paternity research until today by studying how the responsibilities (allowances) towards children that are not spontaneously recognized by fathers have developed and what rights it implies concerning inheritance.

Finally we look upon how the dilemma of combining the quest for equal rights for the children to know their parents may become unequal rights for adults to have children. How anonymity among potential fathers (for instance sperm donors) may clash with the law that claims equal rights for the children to know their parents. How the law clashes with single mothers who refuse to give the name of the father, or homosexual couples who do not want to involve a sperm donor or a surrogate mother as parent.


In 1917, the legal framework in Sweden concerning non-marital parenting was changed in order to provide for the children born out of wedlock. Before 1917, maternity and paternity outside marriage were conditional on the parents'' willingness to recognize a child. Marriage was the only institution that awarded a de facto father and mother to the child. The law of June 14, 1917, on children born out of wedlock changed the rights of these children by ending the anonymous childbirth and imposing the designation of a father. The mother could not refuse the maternity of the child. The right of the child to know its origins was opposed to the rights of the parents to remain anonymous. The parents also had to provide the child with care and education, thus to take responsibility for the child in a way which attests to the recognition of family ties outside of marriage. Parental responsibilities were no longer attached to the status of filiation.

Although the mother was vested with parental authority, the legislature entrusted the municipal administrations, and in particular the Commission for Child Protection, with the responsibility of appointing a "guardian" or curator (barnarvårdsman) for any child born out marriage. The barnarvårdsman was also responsible for investigating and establishing the paternity of the child. In the majority of the cases, the search for paternity and the determination of the amount of child support were dealt with out of court. The man who was recognized as the father of the child undertook to pay maintenance in writing. When the parties could not agree, a legal procedure was launched. Similarly, when the mother refused to entrust the identity of the father to the barnarvårdsman, the curator had to initiate an action in search for paternity. Through history the laws and techniques for identifying the father developed. As with the 1933 Act, which recognized the right of the father to require a blood test and more recently with the DNA technology which in fact has shown that legally determined fathers who have not agreed to this in some cases have not been the biological fathers.

In this article we explore the development of the search for paternity since the adoption of the law of 1917 until today in Sweden. We begin with the legislative debates during the preparation of the 1917 law. We then analyse the modalities provided by this law to the practices of paternity research. We trace the history of paternity research until today by studying how the responsibilities (allowances) towards children that are not spontaneously recognized by fathers have developed and what rights it implies for these children concerning inheritance.

Finally we also look upon how the dilemma of combining the quest for equal rights for the children to know their parents may become unequal rights for adults to have children. How anonymity among potential fathers (for instance sperm donors) may clash with the law that claims equal rights for the children to know their parents. How the law clashes with single mothers who refuse to give the name of the father, or homosexual couples who do not want to involve a sperm donor or a surrogate mother as parent.

Presented in Session 1208: Policy Issues