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When an unmarried father dies before his child’s birth is registered

Judgments come in all shapes and sizes. Well, in all sizes, at least. For example, one of the longest I have come across recently (although thankfully not a family law case) was Generics (UK) Ltd (t/a Mylan) v Warner-Lambert Company LLC, which weighed in at a hefty 727 paragraphs. At the other end of the scale, one of the shortest judgments I have read was published last week, Re Pook (Declaration of Parentage), which came in at a much more manageable seven paragraphs.

Re Pook concerned a sad but interesting scenario relating to the registration of a birth. I will explain the details in a moment, but first a little background on the law of paternity, legitimacy and registration of births.

It seems a little anachronistic to still be talking of legitimacy in the twenty-first century. It is even more anachronistic to be using a Latin expression, but I will do so: Pater est quem nuptiae demonstrant. To put that into English, the law presumes that if the mother is married then her husband is the father of the child. A recent example of this can be found in the child support legislation, which says that the presumption operates if the husband was married to the mother at any time in the period beginning with the conception and ending with the birth of the child.

It follows from this that if the parents were married then either of them may register the birth of the child on their own and include both parents’ details. However, where the parents were not married, details of both parents can only be included on the birth certificate if they sign the birth register together, if one parent completes a statutory declaration of parentage form and the other takes the signed form to register the birth or if one parent goes to register the birth with a document from the court, for example, a court order, giving the father parental responsibility.

The sad situation in Re Pook was that the parents of the child, who was given the delightful name Willow Simone Pook, were not married and the father died suddenly and unexpectedly just two days after she was born. There was clearly no time for him to be given parental responsibility, or for a statutory declaration of parentage to be prepared, even if those things had been considered, which must be unlikely.

Accordingly, the mother registered Willow’s birth, and her father’s details could not be included on the birth certificate.

However, section 14 of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 provides that a person’s birth can be re-registered where that person has become a “legitimated person”. Section 14 specifically provides that where the paternity of the legitimated person has been established by a court order the re-registration can proceed without requiring information with a view to obtaining it being furnished by both parents.

Wishing to have Willow’s father’s details included on her birth certificate, her mother applied under section 55A of the Family Law Act 1986 for a declaration of parentage, stating that Willow’s father was indeed her parent. The application went before Mr Justice Peter Jackson, who duly made the declaration (even though Willow’s paternity was not in doubt, it had been confirmed by DNA testing). Accordingly, Willow’s birth could be re-registered, to include her father’s details.

As Mr Justice Jackson said, a sad and unusual case, albeit with some interesting points. I’m sure Willow will benefit from and appreciate what has occurred. I wish her a long and happy life.

The judgment in Re Pook, all seven paragraphs of it, can be read here.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. JamesB says:

    I think if I were Willow I would be pleased to see her father’s name on the birth certificate.

    That said I think it would be more accurate to say on the Register of births. I say that as I have only seen my own short birth certificate. I do not think my parents paid for the extended one, or they did and lost it. I do not think my parents are in doubt.

    I went along to register all four of my children. On the third we were arguing outside as my ex wanted to give the child my surname but I did not as we weren’t married, but were still together at the time. the registrar said it could be changed at a later date if we wanted. The other three I was married for and have my surname.

    I think it is important that children know who their father is. It can cause problems if they do not. One thing I found, going to a not great school was the readiness of boys from single mothers to fight and show aggression, I think in part shown by lack of male role model and the role models that are there, or films tv showing males as necessarily aggressive and macho and tough. Something that needs to be resolved if boys are to catch up girls in education. This does help towards that and was the right ruling.

    For the many children lacking male influence, or female influence, I say to their parents try and give them some. Like Scouts, or social groups or whatever. I don’t think one sex should have the monopoly on bringing-up children and if they are too much influence can cause problems. Families Need Fathers (FNF) should be renamed Families Need Mothers and Fathers.

  2. Religion and law round-up – 4th October | Law & Religion UK says:

    […] Stowe Family Law Blog: When an unmarried father dies before his child’s birth is registered: John Bolch on a case that is perhaps marginal to “law & religion” but a very […]

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