MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Tue 22-Mar-16 10:25:02

Guest post: "This outdated judgement of unmarried mothers must end"

If an unmarried pregnant woman's partner dies before their baby is born, she faces an unacceptable process to prove paternity - says Stella Creasy

Stella Creasy

Labour and Cooperative MP for Walthamstow

Posted on: Tue 22-Mar-16 10:25:02

(204 comments )

Lead photo

"It is not too late to end this slur on the unmarried and instead register ourselves as living in 2016."

When a pregnant woman's partner dies and she is left to raise their baby, support, sympathy and space to recover are all anyone can and should give. Yet for some mothers in the midst of this grief, the state offers not help but hassle.

If a woman did not marry the father of her unborn child before he passed away, the registrar cannot put his name on the baby's birth certificate as a listed parent. It doesn't matter how long the baby's mother and father were together, or how clearly they were in a committed relationship.

Although this sounds like an antiquated scenario, it shows that the fight for equality still has many battles to take on today. Our laws are yet to catch up with how people live.

The rigidness of the registration process means registrars do not have any discretion. Instead, legislation around birth certificates, dating back to 1958, requires the high court to decide whether the mother of the baby is telling the truth about who the father is. This inevitably comes at great expense to families as they are forced to get legal representation. Furthermore, the widow has to go through the dehumanising task of getting DNA evidence to prove who her child's father is - because naturally, an unmarried mother cannot be trusted on her word alone.

This was the case for Joana, a resident of Walthamstow. Her partner died suddenly three weeks before the birth of their second child. She was forced through an arduous and lengthy process to prove that the same man who was father to her first child was also father to her second. The bill was £1,000 and came at a time when she was grieving.The costs for Joana and her family were far more than financial.

The widow has to go through the dehumanising task of getting DNA evidence to prove who her child's father is - because naturally, an unmarried mother cannot be trusted on her word alone.


In contrast, Kate had a very different experience. Her partner was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died two weeks later. They decided to get married in the intensive care unit following his diagnosis. So, when their child was born a few months after his death, his name went on the birth certificate with no questions asked. Due to a 15 minute marriage ceremony which cost £27, Kate was also able to claim £2,000 bereavement benefit and an ongoing Widowed Parent's Allowance of £510 a month. Joana was denied both of these. Thankfully for both Joana and Kate, Widowed and Young was on hand to support in a way the state did not.

Some may try to dismiss this as a fuss over a piece of paper. I disagree.

Following the death of a father, it becomes even more important to remember and record their role in a family. It cannot be right that the state instead casts a disparaging glance. In our supposedly modern bureaucracy, the outdated judgement of the 'unmarried mother' seeps through - as though it is marriage that guarantees the parentage of a child. This is not only cruel but also inconsistent given that cohabiting couples are treated as equal to married couples when it comes to taxation. Indeed, it is only when a partner dies that the law apparently changes.

The prime minister once stated that his government would be remembered as the one that "finished the fight for real equality". No one can doubt there has been progress. Marriage equality has been signed into law and the Married Couple's Allowance has been extended to cohabiting couples. Yet issues like this show the battle for equality for all families is not yet won.

We need a simple change to the legislation on registrations of births, deaths and marriages. Registrars need to have the flexibility to use their own judgement to address such situations with dignity and sensitivity. It may be too late now for Joana - but it is not too late to end this slur on the unmarried and instead register ourselves as living in 2016. To sign Joana's petition please visit here.

By Stella Creasy

Twitter: @stellacreasy

meditrina Tue 22-Mar-16 12:01:06

An unmarried father cannot register the birth, and an unmarried woman cannot name a man as father unless he is present.

If do not want the legal benefits of marriage, they do not have to have them.

I know that sounds harsh in the context of bereavement, but if course it also means no state death benefits, no provision under intestacy laws, not IHT allowance etc.

I do think there should be considerably greater efforts to ensure people understand the legal difference between marriage and cohabiting. But there should be no criticism of someone choosing one not the other.

Hopelass Tue 22-Mar-16 12:02:58

Signed. DP and I aren't married and I'm pregnant with no. two if anything happened to him before this baby was born I'd be in the same situation.

WannaBe Tue 22-Mar-16 12:12:14

The relationships boards are full of advice that marriage is the safest way to gain rights e.g. Inheritance/widows pensions etc on death and of course additional rights to e.g. Property etc on separation.

I don't understand why, if you want the rights and commitments of marriage, you don't just get married.

Elfontheedge Tue 22-Mar-16 12:15:37

But people don't always plan to have children before getting married, it just happens. Should women be punished for this? Still?

WordGetsAround Tue 22-Mar-16 12:16:08

As PP have said, all this s available to them - by getting married. They are free to marry and free to not marry - the choice is theirs.

Chocolatteaddict1 Tue 22-Mar-16 12:25:03

Great post. Signed.

Alisvolatpropiis Tue 22-Mar-16 12:26:45

I agree entirely with medtrina.

Marriage and cohabitation are different in many different ways, too few people seem to fully grasp that. I got married because I wanted to legal protection it offered, not simply to have a big party and a fancy dress.

Chlobee87 Tue 22-Mar-16 12:28:56

"It doesn't matter how long the baby's mother and father were together, or how clearly they were in a committed relationship."

Not all unmarried mothers are in exclusive or committed relationships. Flip this on its head - I wouldn't want my brother to be named on the birth certificate of a casual girlfriend's baby after his death when we can't be sure the baby is actually his. What if you never even met the girl? What if HE never even met the girl and she is lying? Should her word be enough to get his name on a birth certificate, no further evidence required? Absolutely not.

Sorry but there has to be a line drawn somewhere and the current system is at least clear. If you're having children with someone then you are presumably clued up on this and can take steps to protect yourselves.

FellOutOfBedTwice Tue 22-Mar-16 12:38:40

Absolutely no judgement whatsoever on unmarried mothers- it's a choice and a valid one. However this is one of those things that only cements my belief that- where possible- as a woman it is infinitely safer to be married to the father of your baby and you should make every effort to do that if you can. If I had become pregnant outside of marriage I would have married my husband before I did. I understand why you might not if you weren't sure of the future of the relationship, but if you are then as far as I am concerned you've got nothing to lose from marrying. I have a friend at the moment who lives with her partner and has done for almost a decade. She is pregnant with his child but they are not marrying. I don't get it at all- I would not put myself in that much of a vulnerable position. Not through any moral thinking on marriage but because it's sensible for you and your child.

Tiggeryoubastard Tue 22-Mar-16 12:45:28

Of course this legislation is needed - you could name any recently deceased person as the father otherwise. What a ridiculous scenario that would be. As said above, absolutely no judgement on your choices here, and that isn't a judgement or a punishment, using those terms makes your already weak argument verge on the ridiculous. If you want the legalities that come with marriage, get married. Or accept that you don't have them. For good reason in most cases.

LynetteScavo Tue 22-Mar-16 12:58:41

So if my husband died any pregnant woman could claim he was the father of her child?

It's not really workable. There is no moral judgement, just legal protection for women who are married.

tabulahrasa Tue 22-Mar-16 13:10:37

It is hugely judgemental to say people should get married if they want any of the rights of being married in the context of people dying.

You do all realise that there's just as much chance of suddenly dying if you're planning to get married before a baby is born as there is if you've decided to wait until after or decided not to at all?

Ashhead24 Tue 22-Mar-16 13:14:21

Signed. What a horrible piece of legislation. I was absolutely shocked at the discrimination against unmarried mothers when I had my DS. I consider marriage to be outdated and irrelevant and have actively chosen not to get married.

Legislation needs to catch up to the modern world and protect unmarried mothers as well as it does married mothers.

LynetteScavo Tue 22-Mar-16 13:17:47

I didn't get married until after DC1 was born.

I was VERY aware I had no rights should DH have died. My name was not in the deeds of the house. I was scared of DH being killed on the way home from work and being left destitute (I'd resigned from a demanding job with a long commute so wasn't even employed).

It's not a situation I would want my DD in, and my parents were very keen to pay for my wedding.

sonlypuppyfat Tue 22-Mar-16 13:17:59

It is so easy to get married why not just do it. It doesn't need to be a huge fuss but it is your protection

ChrissieLatham Tue 22-Mar-16 13:18:35

Agree with ashhead. I too do not want to get married as I feel it is a old fashioned concept.
Obviously I don't think names should be put on birth certificates without actual evidence though so I guess Dna testing would need to be carried out.

Chocolatteaddict1 Tue 22-Mar-16 13:18:59

It's not really workable. There is no moral judgement, just legal protection for women who are married

But why can't women who are not married have the same protection.

I doubt it's going to be as easy as some random woman turning up claiming your dead husband is her child's father. I would suspect their would be some questions to be asked. But on the other hand - if he indeed was the father then that child still has every right to have his fathers name on his birth certificate.

LynetteScavo Tue 22-Mar-16 13:21:36

An unmarried father has the right not to be on the birth certificate.

sonlypuppyfat Tue 22-Mar-16 13:24:36

It may seem an old fashioned concept but a lot of women have missed out on what they could have had

gleam Tue 22-Mar-16 13:24:59

But if these couples don't want to get married, couldn't the father lodge an affidavit with a solicitor (?) saying that he is the father of x baby in case anything happens to him?

Why is it the State's fault?

trollopolis Tue 22-Mar-16 13:28:34

"Legislation needs to catch up to the modern world and protect unmarried mothers as well as it does married mothers."

I don't agree with this. People have choices. If you want the protections of marriage, you marry. If you do not, you don't. And I don't judge people for making one choice over the other.

But in this case, there is a fairly simple parallel:

A woman cannot name a (living) man on a birth certificate unless she is in a legally recognised marriage,or unless he accompanies her (or in rare situations such as military deployment swears a stat dec).

A woman cannot name a (dead) man in a birth certificate unless she was in a legally recognised marriage to him (other possibilities cease to exist on death).

There is provision for a woman to have a man she was not married to legally acknowledged as the father, either via CMS is living or courts if not.

Chocolatteaddict1 Tue 22-Mar-16 13:30:23

That is no good thing lynette - that fact is misogyny at its best.

Lots of couples don't mutually agree not to get married. It's often the man that's doesn't want to/leaves it too late. Leaving the woman vunerable situation.

tabulahrasa Tue 22-Mar-16 13:33:04

People don't die by appointment though...

For some people not getting married is a choice, for some it's that their choices were kind of limited by bereavement.

You can't marry someone who died before you could organise it!

Chocolatteaddict1 Tue 22-Mar-16 13:34:01

troll you have just basically out lined the op

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