Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Legal Parentage “By Design”: Reimagining Birth Certificates in Aotearoa New Zealand

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posted on 2021-12-07, 20:37 authored by Ballantyne, Ruth

This thesis highlights two significant flaws in birth certification and legal parentage regimes in Aotearoa New Zealand that negatively impact children conceived and raised in an array of diverse family structures. First, birth certificates currently reflect a child’s legal parentage, excluding any reference to a child’s genetic or gestational origins. This thesis draws on social constructionist conceptions of the self and narrative identity theory, alongside Māori understandings of aspects of whakapapa, to demonstrate that birth certificates should incorporate more information about a child’s origins, and that a failure to do so can have negative consequences for a child’s identity development. To rectify these informational deficits, this thesis argues for the reform of birth certification in Aotearoa New Zealand. It demonstrates the nature and potential of these reforms through the creation of a prototype birth certificate for all children that incorporates their genetic, gestational, and legal parentage.  Second, this thesis claims that the current model of legal parentage, which permits a child to have a maximum of two legally recognised parents at any given time, does not reflect the lives of children who are intentionally brought into the world and raised by more than two individuals. Rather, it embodies historic understandings of legal parentage that privilege traditional heterosexual western forms of reproduction, and fails to account for the realities of assisted human reproduction and modern-day family formation. Expanding the operation of legal parentage to incorporate all of a child’s parental figures (and including them on the child’s birth certificate from the outset) would provide greater legal protection for children born into multi-parent families, in line with that currently enjoyed by children with one or two legal parents. Therefore, this thesis develops an intentional model of legal parentage accommodating more than two legal parents where a child is conceived by assisted human reproduction in specified circumstances.  Reimagining birth certificates and legal parentage as proposed in this thesis would better reflect the social and narrative realities of identity formation, especially for children, whereby who they become is greatly shaped by the individuals in their lives and their experiences in the world. It would also better meet our obligations under the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child, as well as possibly affording greater respect to Māori conceptions of identity, which is of fundamental importance given the classification of whakapapa as a taonga guaranteed protection under Te Tiriti o Waitangi. The expansion of legal parentage beyond the two-parent paradigm would also provide greater legal protection to children in Aotearoa New Zealand, arguably making this area of family law consistent with a legal framework that is otherwise well attuned to recognising the diversity and complexity of family relationships.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Master of Laws

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Law


Atkin, Bill