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Fathers, birth certificates and the latest “big idea”

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October 22, 2021

The law needs changing – the Government must do more than tinker at the edges

Although I believe that the increased number of unmarried couples has created problems that are not covered with existing legislation, I was startled to learn that the Government has unveiled proposals to make unmarried mothers declare their children’s fathers on birth certificates.

At present, only children born to married couples must have a father’s name entered on their birth certificates. When a mother and father are not married, the naming is at the mother’s discretion. Every year nearly 50,000 babies – seven per cent of the total – are “sole-registered”, with only the mother’s name on their certificate.

The new proposals are described by The Daily Telegraph as follows:

Mothers will be forced to name their child’s father on birth certificates for the first time under Government plans which will improve collection of child maintenance from absent fathers.

The 45,000 mothers who leave the father’s name blank when registering a birth each year will have to identify him unless they can prove it is “impossible, impractical or unreasonable” to do so.

Once a name is given, the potential father will be contacted and ordered to register or submit to a paternity test. If a DNA test is positive, the man’s name will be recorded on the child’s birth records.

Fathers who deny paternity, but do not undertake a DNA test, will face potential fines.

Speaking as a family lawyer, I’m less than impressed.

As I’ve noted previously, the Child Support Agency is unfit for purpose and has left millions of devastated people in its wake. These new proposals appear to be clumsy attempts to “patch” its failings, rather than to address the wider problems that continue to exercise a stranglehold upon that blighted organisation.

The plans are also a clumsy attempt to raise revenue via the CSA from named fathers. How exactly women will be compelled to disclose the name of the father is one obvious stumbling point. They fail to address the highly complex situation where – with the mother’s support – the father does not wish to acknowledge parental responsibility.

In my opinion, they are a smokescreen for the inadequate legal remedies that are currently available to unmarried parents. Marriage provides a safe and secure framework to support children. However, when couples simply live together or have children and are not married, the law is glaringly deficient.

The Government needs to stop tinkering at the edges and to bring forward laws that tackle the unnecessary challenges faced by unmarried couples.

Note: This blog receives lots of queries related to the Child Support Agency (CSA). Unfortunately, because of the complex and labyrinthine nature of CSA processes and rules, such questions often call for lengthy and long-winded answers. For this reason, it is difficult to answer such queries on an individual basis.

If your CSA-related query is of a pressing nature, I recommend that you contact the National Association for Child Support Action: a hardworking organisation that can provide ongoing assistance, advice and support.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known family law solicitors and divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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