2009 Welfare Reform
There are quite specific pieces of guidance in the 2009 Welfare Reform legislation which outline what is meant by parental responsibility. Section 4 of the Children Act 1989 which was later amended by the Adoption and Children Act in 2002 states that if couples are unmarried, a father can acquire parental responsibility in several ways such as;
- Appearing on the birth certificate when the child is registered at birth
- When a Parental Responsibility Agreement is made with the mother
- By obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order or a residence order through the court
Most notably, Section 111 of the latest Adoption and Children Act from 2002 outlined a significant change in the way fathers were recognised. The 2009 Welfare Reform legislation allows unmarried fathers to obtain full parental responsibility provided that their name was listed on a birth certificate.
This is not applicable however if the father and mother were married at the time the child was born because they will both acquire automatic parental responsibility over the child. Before this legislation an unmarried father could only appear on the birth certificate if the biological mother was in agreement.
Joint Birth Registration
The Welfare Reform Bill goes someMagistrates Association Family Proceedings Committee way to helping fathers. In June 2008, a White Paper was published entitled ‘Joint Birth Registration: Recording Responsibility’. Within this white paper a series of plans were announced which would change the law so that fathers as well as mothers were named on the birth certificate, resulting in the registration of the biological father compulsory.
This new legislation ensures that an unmarried father retains parental responsibility and they will have a right to have their names entered onto the birth register and automatically gain parental responsibility.
There is a duty placed upon the mother of a child to provide specific details about the father of the child, however in Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights it is acknowledged that by requesting this occurs breaches the human rights of the mother.
That being said, the government believe it to be much more beneficial for joint birth registration because it will ultimately enhance children’s welfare and promote a sense of responsibility. Furthermore, this new right is also in support of the view that children have a right to know about their parentage and fathers have a right to family life.
It is believed that suitable safeguards are already in place for the mother and this Welfare Reform Bill will not encourage a vulnerable mother to name the father where it is considered she would be at risk or put in danger as a result. Nevertheless, concerns are raised to state that taking a woman’s word is not sufficient in law.
Some organisations that support women believe that by awarding equal status in terms of parental responsibility can prove detrimental to some women, particularly those who are vulnerable or where children have been conceived as a result of rape.
However in these circumstances, the put forward a proposal which outlined that there should be some anonymous route through which child maintenance payments are to be made by the rapist towards the welfare of the child.
The 2009 Welfare Reform Bill initiated a number of debates about the financial implications of the changes, particularly in relation to unmarried fathers securing automatic parental responsibility. Multiple concerns have been raised in relation to changes under the Adoption and Children Act 2002 which assigns automatic parental responsibility to the father.
This could in fact reduce the number of fathers registering in fear that they will be made financially accountable for the child.
The law in relation to fathers rights is changing on a regular basis, particularly in relation to a shift in society from marriage to cohabitation. More children than ever before are being born outside of marriage and fewer children are living with their birth parents and a number of children are being registered under the mothers name only.
It is anticipated that the Bill will have some impact on counteracting some of the effects of a generation who were deprived of the benefits associated with having a biological father. The Bill does appear to promote the belief that the welfare of children is the most important consideration and it recognises that fatherhood and motherhood bring with them a certain degree of responsibility.
Fathers, like mothers have a unique and valuable contribution to make to their child’s future and this should be recognised in legislation.
About the author:
This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers legal advice team and posted by Lloyd Barrett. Expert Answers provides online legal advice on all aspects of UK Law to users in the United Kingdom.