Paternity Cases in Denmark

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In earlier times, there was only a paternity case if the mother of an illegitimate child brought the case. In principle, the authorities were indifferent with the illegitimate fathers, and it was for the mothers to hold them accountable. It is not always possible to find out who the father of a child born out of wedlock is. Even in modern times it can be difficult. Perhaps there has been more than one who could have fathered the child - perhaps the mother did not have enough information to allow the authorities to been able to find the right one.

Duty and oath

Early on, a woman had no duty to tell who was the father of an illegitimate child. An accused father could take an oath that he had not fathered the child. To the contrary, if he confessed to fatherhood, he could, from 1763, be required to pay child support. That support would only be paid until the child turns 10. In 1908 the law was changed so that the child support would continue until the child was 18. A man could appeal for the support to be reduced, or completely eliminated after the child reached the age of 14 years. The illegitimate child could receive an inheritance from his mother and from his mother's side of the family. But the children could receive an inheritance from their father's side only after a law went into effect on 1 January, 1938. At the same time, it was also decided that the paternity of illegitimate children was determined through blood tests when there was doubt. But even then there may be doubt, for example if there are two possible fathers - and they both have the same blood type.

Money from the parish

If the supposed father could not pay the child support, the mother could - from 1888 - get funds from the authorities. If the child later needed public support, it was not the birth parish who had the commitment. It was the parish where the mother stayed 10 months before birth. That is why there is always something about "The mother's residence at the ten-month-day" by an entry for a illegitimate child, recorded in the parish register.

Born in The Old Town?!

In Copenhagen you can - after 1891 - find all "out of town births" that are dependent in Copenhagen in parish 74 - The Old Town. In earlier times an illegitimate child was sometimes called, "et slegfredbarn" or "frillebarn". You can occasionally find such entries in parish registers.


Statens Arkiver. Faderskabssager. Denmark: Landsarkivet for Sjælland Lolland-Falster & Bornholm, 2008