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Guest post: "This outdated judgement of unmarried mothers must end"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

GooseberryRoolz Fri 25-Mar-16 11:50:57

* 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.*


You make your choice.

What you can't reasonably do is dictate to the state that they should simplify the serious and complex business of BMD registrations to suit your preference or convenience.

HarlotBronte Fri 25-Mar-16 18:03:53

Well, in my experience the people who have made an informed choice not to marry because they don't want a particular legal or financial implication usually tend to be better provisioned than those who've decided it's just a piece of paper and they don't need the state to recognise their love. More likely to have tried to put in place the legalities they do want but via other means, that type of thing. I suppose that's because by definition people who made an informed choice about marriage know enough to be able to take pre-emptive action. Generalisation, but that's been my experience. So I'd guess that if we had an option to lodge an affidavit with the registrar to be used in the event of death, or similar, they'd be more likely than average to avail themselves of it.

PalmerViolet Sat 26-Mar-16 11:13:45


Forcing people to enter into patriarchally mandated legal contracts in order to safeguard against a remote possibility is ridiculous.

Shotgun weddings in order to 'legitimise' a child are a bit 19th century now.

Also a touch difficult to organise any kind of ceremony when your dead partner was a few thousand miles away during the majority of the pregnancy, and the entirety of the revealed pregnancy and caught a stray bullet just before his return, as happened to an acquaintance of mine.

Want2bSupermum Sun 27-Mar-16 12:11:23

Apologies harlot. I misread your posts.

Palmer It has nothing to do with shotgun weddings and legitimizing a child. I think we are well beyond the time when a child born out of wedlock was taboo for social reasons.

Personally I looked up the laws before deciding if marriage was for me. I had way more assets going into my marriage than DH and took legal advice. I learned a lot about marriage from that paid legal advice that I think every single person, no matter their wealth, benefits from getting married before having DC. I fully understand it doesn't work that way.

Also for your friend whose partner was in the army I presume, my brother is in the army and as an officer has sorted out paternity twice now. The men were on tour, missed the births and were not due home for another 6 weeks or so. They died before returning home. My brother sent off documentation stating that the spolders were the father. He had to call on registra who was being picky and he subsequently submitted a complaint to his superiors and the local MP of the area that his letter wasn't enough for the mother to register the father of the child. I know the complaint was upheld. Also the Army has funds available for children who have lost their parent. My brother made sure both mothers knew about what help was available and that their claims were processed.

GooseberryRoolz Sun 27-Mar-16 12:36:51

Forcing people to enter into patriarchally mandated legal contracts in order to safeguard against a remote possibility is ridiculous.

There's no 'force' and the worst possible outcome of being bereaved while pregnant and unmarried (thankfully not common) is a short court procedure costing a few hundred ££s. So about the same as a very basic wedding.

I can't see the compulsion at all, but I'll gladly sign a petition proposing the abolition of court charges for bereaved expectant mothers wishing to apply for a paternity declaration.

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