Filiation: the Legal Link Between Parents and Children

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The family relationship connecting children to their parents is called filiation. The law recognizes and protects this relationship by giving rights and duties to children and their parents. 


Kinds of Filiation

The concept of filiation has evolved with time. Today, a person can be recognized as a parent in several ways.

The rules vary by country and province. For example, a child in Quebec can only have two parents at any time, but these parents can be two fathers or two mothers.

 Quebec law recognizes three kinds of filiation:


Filiation: Rights and Duties

Filiation results in rights and duties. Parents have custody rights and must look after the physical and psychological well-being of their children. Parents must also supervise and educate them. These rights and duties make up parental authority.

Parents are also their children’s tutors until the children reach adulthood. This means that they must manage their children’s property and protect their interests. Also, it is the parents who take action to have their children’s rights respected, for example, by taking someone to court, instructing the lawyer and signing the necessary legal documents for the child.

Filiation has many other effects. Here are some examples:

  • Parents and children inherit from one another unless a will says something else. 
  • Children can sometimes make medical decisions on behalf of their father or mother.
  • Parents in need can ask their child for financial help.


Proof of Filiation

Sometimes parents must prove that a child is theirs, for example, at a border crossing. Also, parents must provide their children’s birth certificates to register them in schools and daycares.

Parents must also prove filiation if someone takes them to court claiming they are not the child’s real parent.

There are three ways to prove filiation:

  • The child’s act of birth. After birth, a form called the declaration of birth must be filled out, signed and sent to the Directeur de l’état civil (registrar of civil status). The parents’ names are written on the form and then recorded on the child’s act of birth. The act of birth is the main way to prove filiation.
    Parents who are married or in a civil union when the child is born can put each other’s names on the declaration form. But partners in a common-law relationship must both sign the declaration. 
  • Uninterrupted possession of status. Parents not named the act of birth can prove they are the child’s parent by showing that, from the moment of birth, they always believed the child was theirs and were publicly recognized as the parent. This is called possession of status. 
    For example, parents can show that they gave the child their family name and their family and friends always believed the child was theirs. Possession of status must be uninterrupted, meaning that it must last long enough without breaks. Courts have said that 16-24 months is usually long enough, depending on the situation. 
  • Presumption of paternity. When a child is born during the marriage or civil union of a heterosexual couple (or within 300 days of the dissolution or annulment of the marriage or civil union), the law assumes that the mother’s spouse is the father. The presumption of paternity does not apply to a father who lives with the mother without being married or in a civil union with her. 
    Once filiation is proven, the parents and child have rights and duties toward one another. 

    Sometimes people can make a voluntary statement that they are the child’s parent, for example, in a letter, email or social media. This voluntary acknowledgement is not enough to prove filiation in law. But children can use it as a basis for asking someone to assume the duties of a parent, for example, by paying child support.

    For same-sex couples, the way to prove filiation is different.


Uninterrupted Possession of Status vs. Psychological Parenthood 

Uninterrupted possession of status is a way that parents can prove filiation if they are not named in the act of birth. This means they have always treated the child as their own since the child’s birth, and that family, friends, etc. always considered them as the parent. 

Psychological parenthood is when people take care of a child as their own, but they know that the child is someone else’s. A psychological parent can enter the child’s life long after birth, but the law only recognizes filiation that exists from the start. So, a psychological parent is not recognized as the child’s parent. Just giving a child love and care and spending time with the child is not enough to prove filiation in law.

Even if a child calls the mother’s spouse “Daddy” for 10 years, the only way to establish filiation is by adoption, if the situation permits.

If a couple breaks up, the person who acted as a parent can sometimes get visiting rights to maintain the relationship with the child. What matters is the child’s best interests.

In the case of married couples who divorce, the spouse who acted as parent to the child might even have to pay child support.  


Common-Law Couples

A man who is in a common-law relationship with his child’s mother at the time of birth does not have to adopt the child to be recognized as the father. If the father is named in the declaration of birth, he will be recorded as the father on the child’s act of birth. If only the mother is named, he can prove he is the father by uninterrupted possession of status. 


Children From a Previous Union

People who are married or in a civil union do not have a bond of filiation with their spouse’s children from a previous relationship. The only way to create a bond of filiation is to adopt the spouse’s children if the situation permits.

Important !
This article explains in a general way the law that applies in Quebec. This article is not a legal opinion or legal advice. To find out the specific rules for your situation, consult a lawyer or notary.