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Fathers will be required to sign their child's birth certificate

Date:2 JUN 2008

Plans to change the law to require fathers as well as mothers to be named on the birth certificate were announced in a government White Paper published this afternoon.

The change, which will be implemented in the next session's Welfare Reform Bill, will put parental responsibility centre stage by giving mothers or fathers a right to insist that the other parent acknowledges their responsibilities to their child by registering on the birth certificate.

The responsibility to register a new baby for unmarried parents currently lies predominantly 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. Today's announcement intends to address this through three key changes to the law:

Requirement to joint register
There will be a new responsibility on both parents to joint register the birth of their child. If either parent wants to sole register, the registrar will explain to them that they have to joint register unless it is impracticable, impossible or unreasonable to do so". If not then the registrar will ask the registering parent to come back with information about the other parent in order to continue with the joint registration.

Father's obligation to register
Where the mother wants joint registration but the father does not want to, the mother can provide information that allows the registrar to contact the father who will be obliged to take a paternity test. If he is proven to be the father then the child will be joint registered.

Father's right to register
The changes will give a father the right to declare his paternity and have his name recorded on the birth certificate. Where the mother does not acknowledge that the father is the father, he will have the right to ask to take a paternity test.

In addition the White Paper also proposes other non-legislative ways to increase the number of joint registrations, for example registrar outreach making it possible for people to register in their local community at a doctor's surgery or community centre. It also looks at more flexible hours for registration, or the option of a home visit for parents with reduced mobility.

Announcing the White Paper,Secretary of State for Work James Purnell said: "All children deserve the best start in life. It's crucial that from the day they are born, both mum and dad recognise the role they play in their child's life and how that shapes their child's identity. Registering a child's birth isn't just a legal requirement, it's a lifetime commitment by both parents to safeguard their child's development, health and welfare, and provide them with direction and guidance throughout childhood.

"We want to ensure that while continuing to protect vulnerable women and children, we promote parental responsibility and child welfare by significantly increasing the number of birth registrations which hold the details of both mother and father."

The announcement was welcomed by the parents organisation Families Need Fathers. Their chair, Charles Kenyon, said: "We are extremely pleased that the DCFS and DWP have proposed tangible steps to promote the involvement of both parents from birth. By ensuring positive action towards joint birth registration, we will strengthen family life and promote shared parenting by better enabling both mothers and fathers to carry out their parental responsibilities, and giving children a stronger sense of security and identity."

The White Paper Joint birth registration: recording responsibility can be found at: www.dwp.gov.uk/jointbirthregistration