Moves to outlaw “fatherless” children to try to ensure that both parents are involved in a child’s life, have now been unveiled by the Government.
The proposals were outlined in a White Paper and will form part of the Welfare Reform Bill, set to be unveiled in the autumn.
They apply to unmarried couples and mean that all fathers will be required to sign their baby’s birth certificate, says Jane Cowley, head of family law at Midland law firm Harvey Ingram.
Registrars will also get powers to pursue reluctant fathers who do not want to be named and prevent mothers from keeping the father’s name off the birth certificate, simply because a relationship has broken up acrimoniously.
At present, responsibility to register a baby’s birth lies entirely with the child’s mother. No questions are asked if she chooses not to include the father’s name on the youngster’s birth certificate.
About 50,000 babies every year in the UK – seven per cent of the country’s total number of births – are deemed to be “sole-registered” with only their mother’s name on the certificate.
But under the new law, if a mother tries to register the birth in her name alone, she will be pressed by the registrar to name the father. If she opts to name him and provides details of his whereabouts, the registrar will be obliged to pursue him until he signs.
If the father disputes paternity he may take a DNA test, but will also face a fine for non-co–operation if he fails to fulfil the new requirement to register. Should the father want to be named when the mother opposes the move, he can contact the registrar and ask to sign, taking a paternity test if necessary.
At the moment fathers in this position have to go to court to secure the powers of parental responsibility, before applying to re-register his child’s birth.
Ministers say the new legislation makes parental responsibility a priority, with both parents obliged to acknowledge that registering their child’s birth is a legal requirement and should be a lifetime’s commitment.
Ms Cowley, who has been following developments closely, gave a cautious welcome to the proposals.
She said: “This new system could work, but a lot is dependent on the details.
“Clearly there will be little the new legislation could do if the mother does not want to identify the father and the father does not want to be named.
“Registrars are going to be obliged to use their best judgment if getting both parents’ names is likely to be impossible, or unreasonable.”
The proposals are also likely to pave the way for pilot projects to allow birth registration to take place in hospitals or community centres immediately after the child’s birth.
At present, parents have to go to make an appointment with their local town hall to get their child’s birth certificate.
Ms Cowley pointed out that a similar system currently operates in Australia, where, as a result only about one in 30 births are sole registered.