Recent press articles have reported that the Government is considering amending current legislation to place an obligation on single fathers to sign the child's birth certificate; the effect being to "bolster the role of the father" and ensure that he accepts legal responsibility for his child.
Whilst a married father automatically shares parental responsibility with the mother and can, therefore, register his child's birth and name himself as the father on the birth certificate, the position of an unmarried father is different.
Since December 2003, the unmarried mother has only been able to name the father on her child's birth certificate if the father attends the registration of the birth and consents to his name being included. Having done so, the father then shares parental responsibility with the mother, enabling him to be involved in the important decisions that must be made with reference to the child's upbringing and welfare and causing him to be responsible for the child.
Whilst this prevents "father unknown" being entered on the birth certificate of a child of unmarried parents and, therefore, affords the child the knowledge as to his paternity, it seems that the Government's proposal is that, by placing an obligation on the unmarried father to sign his baby's birth certificate, he will accept or be forced to accept his legal obligations towards his child.
For many unmarried fathers, this would be a welcome move. However, there will always be those who do not want anything to do with their offspring and the unmarried mother, who has been forced to share parental responsibility with the errant father, will be unable to make some important and, potentially life-changing decisions unilaterally. For instance, the mother who has given birth to a baby as a consequence of rape may find herself having to involve the father in the decision-making process with reference to the child including the choice of name; the choice of school; consenting to any medical treatment required by the child and his religious upbringing. She will potentially be unable to make a new life for herself and that of her child in another Country without the father's consent and any application to the Court for an Order allowing her to make these decisions will have to be served upon the father so that he can be involved in the Court process.
The Department of Education has said that it has "no plans" to introduce fresh legislation at this stage, but that it is looking for ways to support fathers in the "crucial role they play in their child's life". It is extremely unlikely, therefore, that any change to the current legislation concerning parental responsibility will made in the foreseeable future.