King Solomon of Israel was called upon, in 1 Kings 3:16-28 of the Hebrew Bible, to determine which of two women was the mother of an infant boy. One woman’s newborn had died and the other woman’s newborn had lived, but both lay claim to the surviving infant. In his great wisdom, King Solomon raised a sword and offered to split the baby in two, knowing that the child’s true mother would rather give up her child than let him be harmed. The first woman agreed with the plan, but the second urged the king to “give her the living child, and in no wise slay it.” Solomon had his answer.
Though courts do not raise swords or threaten to split babies in two, they are frequently called upon to determine questions of parentage, or who are a child’s legal parents. A legal parent must support the child, but also has the constitutional right to determine almost every aspect of the child’s life. An adult who does not qualify as a legal parent can avoid financial obligations, but also can be shut out completely from the child’s life. Legal parentage also determines many economic rights. Parentage law can thus make or break a family and deeply affect the life of a child.