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New South Wales - Glossary Term

Illegitimacy ( - 1976)

Alternative Names
  • Illegitimate
  • Illegitimate Child

Illegitimacy was the status given to children born as a result of an out of wedlock, or ex-nuptial, pregnancy. The term 'illegitimate' replaced the even more pejorative term 'bastard'. The social stigma surrounding illegitimacy was a factor behind many children being relinquished by unmarried mothers, or being placed in out-of-home 'care'.


In 1902 the Legitimation Act was passed. This allowed the birth of an illegitimate child to be reregistered if the parents had legally married. The new registration included the details of the father and the parents' marriage. This could only be done if there had been no legal impediment to the marriage of the parents at the time the child was born - that is, if both parents were unmarried and of age. In 1913 parents who had been unable to marry at the time of a child's birth were able to record their marriage details by way of a declaration, but these rules were not actually changed until the 1961 Commonwealth Marriage Act.

Attitudes to children born from ex-nuptial pregnancies started to shift from around the 1960s in Australia. This shift was later accompanied in more social security and childcare options for single mothers. The Children (Equality of Status) Act 1976 removed all legal disabilities suffered by ex-nuptial children and established that their rights regarding paternity and maternity are the same as children born within wedlock.


Online Resources

Sources used to compile this entry: 'Report 69 (1992) - Review of the Adoption of Children Act 1990: Summary Report', in NSW Law Reform Commission, Law Reform Commission New South Wales, 1992,; NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages, Registry's Records, NSW Attorney and Justice,

Prepared by: Naomi Parry