Legitimation by the subsequent marriage of their parents of children born out of wedlock, although recognised by canon law, was rejected by the common law of England, which New Zealand inherited in 1840. This harsh rule survived in England until 1926, but it was ameliorated in some cases in New Zealand in 1860, when the children of Europeans and Maoris, who had subsequently married, were made legitimate. The introduction of adoption in 1881 opened an indirect means of legitimation. In 1894 the Legitimation Act, whose promoters seem to have been inspired by the law of Scotland, made general provision for legitimation by subsequent marriage.
Under the 1894 Act a child was legitimated only if its parents might lawfully have married when it was born; that is, if neither parent was then married to anyone else. Moreover, legitimation depended on registration. The first of these restrictions was removed in 1921, the second in 1939. The present law is that any child whose parents have subsequently married, wherever the child was born or the marriage occurred, is automatically legitimate for all the purposes of New Zealand law as if born in lawful wedlock.
by Bruce James Cameron, B.A., LL.M., Legal Adviser, Department of Justice, Wellington.
- New Zealand, the Development of its Laws and Constitution (ed.) Robson, J. L. (1954).