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Guest post: "This outdated judgement of unmarried mothers must end"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


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

HarlotBronte Thu 24-Mar-16 14:11:49

Of course you'd need to have tenancies if you had mortgages, otherwise you're just discriminating on age and income grounds given the profile of owner occupiers as against the general population. Although again, nobody seems to have addressed the impact of this modification of Stella's argument on unmarried couples not living together. IIRC these couples are also likely to be lower income. MN has indeed naice-ified it.

I do think we could cover the costs of DNA in that scenario, at the very least for people on low incomes. Seems reasonable and it can't be very common. We spunk more on less.

AllPowerfulLizardPerson Thu 24-Mar-16 14:48:56

"Joint mortgages should be regarded as de facto marriage certificates"

No, they indicate a joint responsibility to pay for a property and do not require or imply a sexual relationship.

Marriage however does have a sexual relationship in the deal. Which is one reason why close kin cannot marry, though they can take out joint mortgages and cohabit.

So there is a lot which needs to be demonstrated, and if necessary verified, in order to establish posthumous paternity. And there seems to be no compelling reason to change the person responsible for making the ruling from a judge to a lay person.

jonesstar Thu 24-Mar-16 15:21:10

This is an interesting read… Registrars are already allowed to make changes to the father on birth certificates with providing DNA evidence to them not the court. So why not extend this to adding a father.

AllPowerfulLizardPerson Thu 24-Mar-16 15:44:00

The link says Registrars can't make those changes. They can only be done at GRO following DNA test or court order.

So pretty much the same as adding a postuhumus father

jonesstar Thu 24-Mar-16 16:08:50

It says:

If you’re applying to the General Register Office (GRO), you must fill in the relevant application form:

application form to correct details on a birth registration
application form to remove incorrect father’s details from a birth registration

If your local register office is making the correction, make an appointment with them - you won’t need an application form.

AllPowerfulLizardPerson Thu 24-Mar-16 16:36:31

I meant this bit:

"Removing the wrong father’s details

"You can only apply to change who the father is if a DNA test proves (or a court order says) that the man named on the certificate isn’t the natural father.

"You must apply to the GRO for this type of change."


AllPowerfulLizardPerson Thu 24-Mar-16 16:39:34

The minor changes that a Registrar can do are things like correcting the spelling of the father's name, or address, amending his occupation, or other things that are barely more than clerical errors.

You cannot add or remove a whole entry establishing paternity via the registrar.

jonesstar Thu 24-Mar-16 17:07:19

So these people working there are not registrars? Anyway i dont know the law and it seems to have turned into a discussion between to people. I just read its been raised in a debate by stella so let them sort it.

jonesstar Thu 24-Mar-16 17:19:01

Between two people i ment... smile

GooseberryRoolz Thu 24-Mar-16 18:33:18

I think it should be the other way around, and that both parents should be present to register a birth even if they are married, with no automatic (legal) presumption of legitimacy for anyone.

MrsLupo's solution is still by far the simplest.

And posthumous arrangements could be the same for everyone too.

whattheseithakasmean Thu 24-Mar-16 19:48:28

I would be annoyed at us both having to attend to register the birth - seems unnecessary for married couples. Why make extra trouble for people who have already completed a legal formality by getting married.

HarlotBronte Thu 24-Mar-16 20:08:03

Mmm, I was grateful not to have to attend to register one of mine when I was still feeling dog rough six weeks after a difficult birth. I'd already entered into a legal contract allowing my DH to register the birth of any children born to me without my presence, why shouldn't we be able to avail ourselves of the provisions of that contract? It's not like married people individually registering births is causing great problems in society that urgently need to be solved.

tabulahrasa Thu 24-Mar-16 21:41:47

"I'd already entered into a legal contract allowing my DH to register the birth of any children born to me without my presence"

Actually if he was present at the birth, he could do it anyway.

HarlotBronte Thu 24-Mar-16 21:46:11

If we were unmarried?

HarlotBronte Thu 24-Mar-16 21:58:47

Apparently unmarried couples can do a statutory declaration if they don't want both to have to go to register the birth:

So another legal document, basically. I don't know if the father has to be at the birth for this to be an option. But again, there are people who engage in legal formalities allowing them not to both have to attend to register the birth. I can't see why they plus those of us who are married should have to give up these rights. And unmarried couples also having the facility to include both names on the BC without attending certainly doesn't undermine my point that my legal contract of marriage allows me to do that and there's no reason for it to be messed with.

tabulahrasa Thu 24-Mar-16 21:59:31

Anyone present at a birth can register a birth if the mother can't, it's only fathers that have to be married or present.

whattheseithakasmean Thu 24-Mar-16 22:01:26

So anyone present can register the birth, but can they include the father on the birth certificate? That is the issue here.

HarlotBronte Thu 24-Mar-16 22:09:59

Yes, that's what I'm wondering too. Although it wouldn't refute my point that those of us who are married have entered into legal contracts allowing us to register the birth of any child born to the mother, in both names, without the other party having to be there.

tabulahrasa Thu 24-Mar-16 22:17:24

Genuinely no clue, but as the father is there declaring himself as the father, which is what is required if they're unmarried...and he's there to register the birth as a witness to it, I assume so?

I'm guessing it's actually more for if the mother is literally physically unable to do it or dead.

Weird though that being present at the conception isn't good enough for a mother to prove paternity, but being present at the birth is good enough for anybody at all to prove maternity.

GooseberryRoolz Thu 24-Mar-16 23:44:41

All of these options DO sound much harder work than simply turning up to a registration office in jeans to just pay your 80 quid and sign the marriage register, though.

HarlotBronte Fri 25-Mar-16 08:58:00

Indeed they do. But there are some people who don't want to get married for legal and financial reasons, despite some previous posters apparently feeling that they should be forced into it if they cohabit for a certain period of time. So in certain circumstances I can see how the extra faff and probably expense might be logical.

AllPowerfulLizardPerson Fri 25-Mar-16 09:25:04

"So another legal document, basically. I don't know if the father has to be at the birth for this to be an option"

No. The main use is by those stationed overseas by the military (who sometimes miss the birth, though they do seem to have got a bit better at getting people back) but who frequently cannot be away from operations long enough be there for the Registrar's appointment. Or those incarcerated.

Want2bSupermum Fri 25-Mar-16 09:31:50

harlot Getting married is not expensive. It's a wedding that is expensive. My local church is willing to cover the cost of the license and ceremony which is about £200 if you can't afford it.

It bothers me that when I look back at my education when it came to sex Ed we were told it didn't matter if you were married or not. Well actually it does matter and there are legal ramifications that put the woman in an inferior position if she isn't married when havin children. I'm always shocked when I hear of unmarried couples with children where one (normally the mother) stays home with the DC. That too is a vulnerable position to put yourself in. I don't think most women who agree to stay home know just how weak their position is.

HarlotBronte Fri 25-Mar-16 09:37:18

I genuinely don't understand what it was in any of my posts that made you think I was saying weddings were expensive want2be. Did you not see me agreeing with a post that mentioned weddings costing much less than £200?

Tiggeryoubastard Fri 25-Mar-16 11:26:21

A wedding is when you get married. Not the associated bits. Therefore a wedding needn't be expensive. But a party etc could.

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