The opposition to equal rights for dads is based on the assumption that because some unmarried dads ‘might’ pose a risk then all unmarried dads should be denied equal rights. Interestingly the same principle isn’t applied to all mums, even though some mums pose a risk to children. Rather than denying all mums basic parenting rights, this risk is managed through Social Services (and the same approach clearly could be taken with dads – indeed this approach is currently taken with marrried dads who get equal parenting rights – even though some of them pose a risk).
Leading fatherhood campaigners have now joined forces to call on the Lib Dem Children’s minister to stop blocking plans to give unmarried dads equal rights and are calling on supporters to sign their online petition.
At present in the UK only mothers and married fathers get automatic parental rights to make decisions on important matters like their children’s health, education, religion etc.
As well as treating unmarried fathers unequally, this law leads to the unnecessary mistreatment of dads, such as the Welsh father who was prevented from taking his baby home after his partner died during childbirth - for no other reason than he was an unmarried male parent.
These unequal rules apply to more than 300,000 dads every year. The law was amended under Labour to give parenting rights to unmarried dads once their partner agreed to put their name on the birth certificate but still over 50,000 births are registered every reach without a father being named on the birth certificate. (And fathers’ rights campaigners that their rights should be equal and automatic and not within the gift of the mother to grant or deny – any more than mother’s rights should be in gift of the father to grant or deny).
Campaigners say giving all fathers the same automatic rights in principle as all mothers sends an important message that both parents are important and encourages greater father involvement.
After years of resistance to change the law from left and right, the last Labour government put law change on the statute book, but the law wasn’t ratified before the party left office.
The law change appears to backed by Conversatives in the Coalition Governemnt, including Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who believes that fathers should have both a right and a responsibility to be formally acknowledged by the state. Media reports suggest he thinks “the move is a vital part of addressing a crisis in responsible parenting by fathers and increasing the rights of men in family law”.
However, the Lib Dem Minister for Children and Families, Sarah Teather, is reported as being opposed to the new legislation that would make it the default for unmarried fathers, like married fathers, to sign the birth certificate. According to a story in the Daily Mail the Minister is blocking the enactment of this legislation, which has already been drafted.
Currently over 1,000 children each week are left off the birth certificate.
According to Duncan Fisher OBE, founder of the think tank Fathers Direct (now The Fatherhood Institute) and the first male commissioner at the Equal Opportunities Commission:
“The opposition to the change bases itself on the claim that a new default would put some women and babies in danger of violent men. Campaigners say there is no evidence that birth registration would be a tool for dangerous men to be even more dangerous.
“At the heart of the opposition’s position is the low valuing of fatherhood – the cost of the current system….is so small in their opinion that it can be written off against an unevidenced possibility of harm to some mothers and babies.
“This is the dividing line in the debate about fatherhood – those who value it and those who do not.”
Duncan has co-ordinated a joint letter to The Minister of State for Children and Families with signatories including Adrienne Burgess, CEO of The Fatherhood Institute, Matt Buttery, Family Matters Institute and Karen Woodall at the Centre for Separated Families.