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30 Fam. L.Q. 379 (1996-1997)
Parents and Strangers: The Uniform Adoption Act Revisits the Parental Rights Doctrine

handle is hein.journals/famlq30 and id is 397 raw text is: Parents and Strangers:
The Uniform Adoption Act Revisits
the Parental Rights Doctrine
I. Introduction: Biological Fundamentalism and the
Parental Rights Doctrine
In an overwhelming majority of states, a presumption known as the
parental rights doctrine' governs custody disputes between a child's
biological parents2 and others who, in the parents' stead, have loved
and cared for the child. The parental rights doctrine presumes that a
child's best interests lie in being raised by a fit biological parent.4 In
* Adjunct instructor of law at Brooklyn Law School and co-author of the forthcom-
ing ACLU handbook, The Rights of Families.
1. The parental rights doctrine is also known as the natural parent preference.
See Janet Leach Richards, The Natural Parent Preference Versus Third Parties:
Expanding the Definition of Parent, 16 NoVA L. REV. 733 (1992).
2. Throughout this article, the terms birth parent or biological parent are
used in place of the phrase natural parent to refer to a child's parents at birth. The
term natural parent reflects the presumption that the ties that bind the adoptive
parent to his or her child are inferior to the links between parents and their genetic
offspring. It has long since been discarded by the professional literature in the child
welfare field because it implies that the bonds between children and their parents in
adoptive or other nonbiological families are unnatural. See National Conference
of Commissioners of Uniform State Laws, Unif. Adoption Act § 1-101, Comments,
at 9 (1994).
3. See Richards, supra note 1, at 737 & n. 6-7.
4. In re Petition of Kirchner, 649 N.E.2d 324 (II1. 1995), cert. denied, 115 S.
Ct. 2599 (1995). A corollary of the parental rights doctrine is the presumption that
biological parents, absent proof to the contrary, are fit to raise their children. In contrast,
nonbiological parents (such as prospective adoptive parents) must affirmatively prove
their fitness to parent. The distinction was highlighted by a recent case in which a
single man paid a surrogate mother $30,000 to bear his child. The father then shook
and slapped the 5-week old baby, who lapsed into a coma and died. As one observer

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