Welfare Reform 2009

Welfare Reform Bill and its Impact on Father’s Rights in relation to Parental Responsibility.

How does one acquire parental responsibility?

Under s4 of the Children Act 1989 as amended by the Adoption & Children Act 2002 if the couples are not married the father can acquire PR either by: being registered as the father on the birth certificate; executing a Parental Responsibility Agreement (PRA) with the mother; by obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order (PRO) from the court; or by obtaining a residence order, in which case a separate PRO must be made.

Particularly, s111 of The Adoption & Children Act 2002 demonstrated a major turning point in Family Law in permitting unmarried fathers to obtain automatic parental responsibility if their name is registered on the birth certificate. Where a child’s father and mother are married to each other at the time of his birth, they shall each have automatic PR for the child.

However it is worth noting that this provision although a welcome advance is not retrospective. Therefore, unmarried fathers who registered the birth before this date still needed to re–register in order to obtain parental responsibility.

Until recently unmarried fathers could only appear on the birth certificate of the child if the biological mother agreed.

Statistically the responsibility to register a new baby for unmarried parents lies mainly with the mother. In England and Wales around 7% of births each year are solely registered by mothers, which means every year up to 45,000 children do not have their father named on their birth certificates.

How does the Welfare Reform Bill help fathers?

The introduction of the White Paper in June 2008 – “Joint Birth Registration: Recording Responsibility” announcedplans to change the law so that fathers as well as mothers are named on the birth certificate, therefore making registration of the biological father a mandatory requirement.

The change, which will be implemented in the Welfare Reform Bill, is intended to fulfil the commitment made in the White Paper “Joint Birth Registration: Recording Responsibility” to legislate in order to make joint birth registration by unmarried couples the normal, default position, thereby empowering unmarried fathers with the right to have their names entered on the birth register and to gain parental responsibility automatically. Consequently this route is no longer entirely subject to the behest of the mother. The Bill received Royal Assent on 12 November 2009 and is now an Act of Parliament.

How does it protect the vulnerable mother?

In the Act’s explanatory note it is acknowledged that such a duty to provide information about the father violates the mother’s rights under Article 8 European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). However the government believes that by making joint birth registration mandatory it will improve the welfare of the child and promote a sense of responsibility within the father. And for this reason they argue that providing the fathers name is appropriately balanced against the child’s Article 8 rights to know about his parentage and the father’s article 8 rights to respect for his family life.

It has been considered that there are adequate safeguards for the mother already in place and the Welfare Reform Bill will not compel the vulnerable mother to name the father where it is thought she or the child may be at real risk or in danger .However there are concerns that simply just taking the women’s word for it, is not sufficient.

Some Women’s Organizations believe giving both parents equal status would be detrimental to women who are vulnerable and that some of the women may have conceived through rape or as a result of not being allowed to negotiate the use of contraceptives.

In the case of rape convictions, the Magistrates Association Family Proceedings Committee responded with the proposal that there should be some anonymous  system of child maintenance payments made by the rapist towards the child’s welfare and paid through the courts to protect the mother and her child.

What about the financial implications of the act?

There is much debate about the implications of unmarried fathers getting parental responsibility automatically upon registration. There have been concerns that changes under the Adoption and Children Act 2002 s4 CA 89 which provides fathers with automatic PR upon registration on the birth certificate, might in fact deter fathers from registering in the mistaken belief that this invokes financial liability for the child per se although, in fact, under the Child Support Act 91 they incur financial liability regardless of registration.

Why change the Law in relation to father rights?

In the climate of a rapidly changing social infrastructure statistics show that there is a growing trend away from marriage and towards cohabitation. More children are being born outside of marriage and fewer children are living with both their biological parents. A great number are solely registered in the mother’s name alone and there is a much evidence to suggest that children living without access or knowledge of their biological father experience harmful physical and emotional consequences, although this issue has been exhaustively debated by many academics.

It is hoped that the Bill will go some way towards countering some of the detrimental effects of a generation deprived of the benefits of an upbringing that involves the biological father. Evidence for some of these recent changes in social structure and possible harmful outcomes can be seen by the governmental data.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been met with much criticism, in relation to their motives, however the bill does seem to foster the believe that the welfare of children is paramount and it’s intention is to foster an approach that  fatherhood, as well as motherhood, always comes with both rights and responsibilities. And the Bill implies that the commitment of a father to his child is precious; Fathers have a unique and essential role in the development and guidance in the Childs future.