Saturday, July 7, 2007

to name or not to name?

The British government is making moves to force new mothers to name their child's father when registering the child's birth. At the moment, mothers are able to leave the father's name blank on the birth registration form, which results in a blank space in the area for "father" on the birth certificate. The thinking is that naming the father of the child will "send an important signal about father's roles" and that fathers "must take their role seriously".

Currently in Australia there is no obligation for the father's name to be listed on a child's birth certificate. The onus is on the mother to register the birth as it is she who is given the registration form while in hospital. If the baby is born at home or anywhere other than a hospital, the mother can request a registration form from her local hospital or the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. The mother can then choose whether or not she lists the father's name on the form. A child born to parents who are not married will be registered in the mother's name. However if both parent's agree, the child can be registered with the father's name. The child will be registered in the mother's name if the father does not consent to his name being used, or if the mother does not want the father's name to be used. The father can agree to his name being used but still not have his details appear on the birth certificate by completing a Statutory Declaration.

There are pros and cons for listing the father's name on the birth registration. If a woman wishes to list the father's name she must have his permission to do so (either by him signing the registration form or by completing a Statutory Declaration). Another pertinent factor to consider is whether or not the mother intends to pursue the father for payment of child support. If she does intend to pursue payment, the process is made a lot easier if the father's name is on the certificate. If it isn't listed but the father accepts paternity, he can complete a Stat Dec to that effect. However if he disputes paternity and he is not listed on the certificate, DNA testing will be required to settle the matter and the court will often order this. If the mother doesn't intend to ask for child support but does plan to claim any kind of welfare payments from Centrelink things become a little more complicated.

Centrelink, which is responsible for the administration of welfare payments in Australia, including Parenting Payment - Single, insists that women name the father of their baby in order to receive welfare payments. If a single woman does list the father of her child on the birth certificate, when she applies to Centrelink for welfare payments, she will be required to pursue the named father for child support payments. Income received in the form of child support has a direct affect upon the amount of benefits that can be paid to a sole parent. She must then prove that she has made every effort to contact the father in order to receive child maintenance payments and that she has lodged his details with the Child Support Agency.

If the birth certificate does not list the father's name and there is no legal documentation accepting paternity, the mother will have to supply Centrelink with evidence that she either does not know the identity of the father or that she has been unable to contact him. This process places added stress on the mother at a time when she is already vulnerable. Having authorities demanding to know the father's identity in order to receive payments necessary for living costs can be very intimidating for a new mother. The mother may also be intimidated by the father of the child, if of course she is in contact with him. There are many cases were the father of a child has abandoned the mother at some time prior to the birth of the child, or the mother believes it is in the best interests of the child and herself for the father not to be named.

There are also situations when the mother may not know the identity of the father. As distasteful as it may seem to some people, the reality is that consenting adults have casual sex, often with partners they have only just met. It is also possible for a woman to conceive during a rape and who would want to list the name of their rapist on their child's birth certificate? While it doesn't seem fair that women can choose not to name the father of their child and continue to collect full welfare payments, there are situations when it is in the best interest of the child (and the mother) for the father not to be listed. And just because his name is not on the birth certificate does not mean that the child will never learn of their father's identity.

Another issue that can arise for the single mother is that if the father has possession of legal documentation that names him as the father of the child and there is no custody order in place, he is entitled to walk into any school or daycare centre and take the child into his care. This is particularly frightening because mothers are not encouraged to get sole custody of their child unless a direct need for sole custody can be demonstrated. So even if the father has never laid eyes on the child, has never had any contact of any kind with the child, as long as he has some sort of legal documentation proving paternity he can take that child into his care at any time he wishes to. Another situation that can arise is that if a child requires a passport and the father is listed on the birth certificate, the father must then give his permission for the child to obtain that passport and for the child to leave the country. Even if that father has NEVER laid eyes on the child.

Of course there are positives for having the father listed and they are primarily for the child. It can cause some children distress when they see that they do not have their father's name listed on their birth certificate and it can have an effect on their sense of identity. Knowing their father's name can also assist a child to trace the father's whereabouts in the future, as it is difficult to find someone if you do not know their name.

There are many different points that need to be given serious thought when an unmarried woman is considering whether or not to list the name of her child's father on the birth registration. And unfortunately there are no easy answers.