Illegitimacy has been a basis for discriminatory treatment throughout legal history. The common law termed the illegitimate filius nullius, or the child of nobody. This curious legal fiction (and biological impossibility) originally related to inheritance rights, but was later expanded so as to disavow any cognizable legal relationship between the male parent and his bastard child. While the natural mother, if she is a suitable person, has generally been regarded as the proper guardian of her illegitimate child, the unwed father has not enjoyed a position equal to that of the mother. The so-called "putative" father has been denied equal custodial rights and has often been forced to proceed under a legal presumption of his unfitness as a parent. In Stanley v. Illinois, the United States Supreme Court, in one of its rare incursions into the nether regions of family law, declared this discriminatory treatment of the unwed father to be an unconstitutional denial of due process and equal protection under the law.
"Stanley v. Illinois,"
Hofstra Law Review: Vol. 1
, Article 19.
Available at: http://scholarlycommons.law.hofstra.edu/hlr/vol1/iss1/19