Why the Intent Test Falls Short: Examining the Ways in Which the Legal System Devalues Gestation to Promote Nuclear Families

By Lauren Springett

For hundreds of years, the act of gestating and giving birth to a child was the lynchpin of the mother-child relationship. Now, changes in technological and societal norms have made it possible for motherhood to be established by some combination of gestation, genetics, and intent. As maternity disputes have increased, courts have privileged genetic and intent-based claims to motherhood over gestation-based claims.

This Note argues that in privileging genetic and intent-based claims to maternity over gestation-based claims, courts have implicitly devalued the historic importance of gestation in ways that privilege nuclear families at the expense of more marginalized women. Part II provides background on the evolution of the mother-child relationship in U.S. family law. Part III discusses the ways in which the legal system’s current approach to maternity disputes was shaped by its historical approach to paternity disputes. Part IV explores the ways in which the current approach specifically disadvantages gestational mothers — in particular, gestational surrogates and birth mothers. Part V proposes a model of reform that would more fully recognize both the contributions of gestational mothers and the rights of children to have relationships with all the women involved in their creation.

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