In recent years, the state's conception of parenthood, giving priority to the father in the child's public identification, has been challenged before the courts in multiple ways. The cases are sociologically significant for they capture emerging modes of parenthood outside the patriarchal family model. But more importantly, the article argues, the terms on which identification through father is dispensed with in these cases show the judicial regard for the social. The "social" phenomenon of single motherhood in India encompasses a much broader set of mothers than how the statutory law imagines this category. In addition to mothers of "illegitimate" children, as single adoptive mothers or single mothers using artificial reproductive technologies, this group includes mothers whose husbands have died, divorced mothers, and mothers deserted or abandoned by their husbands, among others. The article shows that in according legal recognition to this broader social category, judges constructed single motherhood not only through biological relatedness or intentionality but also as a function of who performed the labour of parenting. Single motherhood then is a social phenomenon with multiple legal forms and normative bases.

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