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Birth Certificates and the Unmarried Father: Should the Law be Changed?

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.


By Natasha Sieradzki

Section Editor for Family Law




Under the current law, either parent can register the birth of a child on their own, including the details of both parents, providing that they were married or in a civil partnership when the baby was born or conceived thus granting them both parenthood of the child[1]. However, if the parents are not married then only the mother's name shall be automatically added to the birth certificate, with the details of the father only being included if the provisions set out in the Children Act 1989 are met, meaning an active step must be taken. Although, on the face of it, this may seem to be a comprehensible decision in order to protect the best interests of the mother in a case whereby the father is not in the picture there have been a number of calls for this measure to be changed.


One of the main reasons in most recent news stories as to why many believe that this law should be changed is because of complications which arise when the unmarried father dies prior to the birth of the child. In this situation, the mother must attain a court order which, given the circumstances, is an even more intimidating and traumatic experience than it would normally be[2]. Not only can this process be considered to be emotionally damaging but may also be considered financially damaging as a result of payment for both legal advice and the cost of court proceedings[3]. Although this financial loss may only be considered to be small by some it can still be argued that it is unnecessary harm, especially given the already traumatic experience that the mother may have faced surrounding the death of her partner.


Another reason as to why many believe that this law should be changed is because it can be considered to be damaging for fathers. This is because the law seemingly promotes traditional stereotypes that the mother is the main caregiver for the child. Such a stereotype is, by today's standards, outdated and not reflective of how many believe relationships should work. Although the justifications for this law take into consideration the traumatic experience of a mother who may, for example, have been raped it is arguable that this would be possible even if the law were to be changed. This would likely be significant for many fathers because it would allow them to be recognised in law as having an equal role in the upbringing of their child.


The current law is reflective of the UK’s stance on the importance of marriage but in the face of changing societal values and a greater acceptance of sex outside of marriage, it is arguable that changes must be made to the law in order to allow them to fit with current norms and thus provide protection to a greater proportion of the population. This can be considered to be vitally important because, as the law currently stands, it is possible to argue that it coerces people into getting married in order to ensure that they have equal rights in relation to the child and it is this which may cause problems later down the line for the whole family.



 

Sources

[1] UK Government, ‘Register a Birth’ (GOV.UK) <Register a birth: Who can register a birth - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)> accessed 1 December 2020 [2] Hayley Westcott, ‘Widow’s fight to get partner’s name on birth certificate’ BBC News (London, 26 September 2019) <Widow's fight to get partner's name on birth certificate - BBC News> accessed 1 December 2020 [3] BBC News Writer, ‘Bereaved mum in birth certificate law change bid’ BBC News (London, 29 October 2020) <Bereaved mum in birth certificate law change bid - BBC News> accessed 1 December 2020


Bibliography

BBC News Writer, ‘Bereaved mum in birth certificate law change bid’ BBC News (London, 29 October 2020) <Bereaved mum in birth certificate law change bid - BBC News> accessed 1 December 2020

UK Government, ‘Register a Birth’ (GOV.UK) <Register a birth: Who can register a birth - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)> accessed 1 December 2020

Westcott H., ‘Widow’s fight to get partner’s name on birth certificate’ BBC News (London, 26 September 2019) <Widow's fight to get partner's name on birth certificate - BBC News> accessed 1 December 2020


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