British Liberals block move to name the father on all birth certificates
Radical changes to the law to require fathers’ names to be included on birth certificates are being blocked by the Liberal Democrats.
Conservative ministers say unmarried mothers trying to cut a father out of a child’s life should be forced to acknowledge his role, with men given a right to insist upon a paternity test if they resist.
Meanwhile, they say, feckless fathers who refuse to be named on a birth certificate should – like mothers who decline to name a father – be liable for a fine, expected to be £200.
The plan is backed by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who says fathers should have both a right and a responsibility to be formally acknowledged by the state.
He believes the move is a vital part of addressing a crisis in responsible parenting by fathers and increasing the rights of men in family law.
But in the latest coalition row, senior Lib Dems, including Children’s Minister Sarah Teather, are understood to be objecting to the move and refusing to agree to it being implemented – even though the necessary legislation is already on the statute book.
Currently, 50,000 women a year choose to leave the space for the father’s name on a birth certificate blank.
Conservative ministers believe children should have the ‘security’ of being formally acknowledged by both their mother and father.
Making it a legal responsibility for new fathers to register births jointly with mothers would also make it easier to settle disputes over child maintenance, they argue.
The change in the law, which was initiated by Labour and is now on the statute book, would cut both ways. Fathers who do not want to be named on a birth certificate would – like mothers who refuse to name a father – be breaking the law and be liable for a financial penalty.
In 1964 around 65,000 children were born outside marriage in Britain. In 2005 the figure was around 275,000 – and every year 50,000 UK children have the father’s name left blank on their birth certificate.
Under the change in the law, mothers would have to demonstrate exceptional circumstances to be allowed to leave off a father’s name. A GP or social worker would have to corroborate a claim of domestic violence or abuse that could mean a woman or child would be put in danger by naming the father. Children born as a result of rape or sperm donation would also not have to have a father’s name included.
The necessary amendments have already been made to the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 and the Children Act 1989 relating to how parental responsibility is acquired by unmarried fathers.
Government sources, however, said the Lib Dems are objecting to the plan. The party is said to have expressed concern that the system would tar some children permanently by associating them with undesirable fathers, as well as undermining the rights of new mothers to make their own decisions about whether or not to acknowledge paternity.
‘Sarah Teather is the main block to this,’ said one. ‘Ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions have expressed support for this policy, but to no avail.’