The government is intending to push forward with plans to make the registration of fathers' names on birth certificates compulsory, once safeguards to protect vulnerable women and children can be put in place. The rationale behind the plans seems to have two elements: firstly to encourage fathers to play an active role in the child's life and secondly to make it easier to pursue them for child maintenance.
The move is recommended by the Institute for Public Policy Research, which says that when fathers are actively involved in their child’s first weeks they are much more likely to stay closely engaged throughout their child’s life. The Institute's research indicates that children with an actively involved father have better behaviour and improved attainment at school, with a knock on effect on the quality and stability of the relationship between parents. The Institute's Head of Social Policy, Kate Stanley, said: “Requiring fathers to be registered on a birth certificate sends an important signal about the duties of parenthood. It communicates the message that fathers have an equal role to mothers and that they must take their responsibilities seriously.”
All of this sounds great, but what of the situation where the mother names the wrong father, out of malice or mistake? Does this shift the burden of proof to him, to show that he is not the father? And even if the correct father is named by the mother, the father does not thereby acquire parental responsibility unless the mother agrees to him jointly registering the birth with her. As for child maintenance, does the fact that the mother has registered the father's name make any difference? She will give his name anyway to the CSA (or its successor), and is having his name on the child's birth certificate going to encourage a recalcitrant father to pay?
Still, at least, as Kate Stanley says, the child will know who to send a card to today.