The Irish Government has proposed to require birth certificates to bear the father’s name. Currently there’s no requirement in Irish law that a mother name anyone as the father or that she name the correct man if she names someone. So, modest as it is, that’s a step in the right direction for single fathers, right? Wrong. As this article makes clear, unmarried Irish fathers actually stand to lose if the proposal becomes law (Irish Times, 6/6/12).
Irish family law statutes were written in 1964 and as such are in need of drastic change. So, as we’ve come to expect, the government appointed a commission to study the matter and make recommendations. And that’s just what the Law Reform Commission did. Unlike the infamous Norgrove Commission in England, its Irish counterpart made some pretty far-reaching suggestions. But, unlike in England, where the government seems to want to expand on the commission’s report, in Ireland it wants to restrict it. In fact, the only recommendation the government seems to want to follow is the one requiring Dad’s name be on the birth certificate.
The commission’s report, Legal Aspects of Family Relationships, proposed extending automatic guardianship rights to all parents, regardless of marital status.
Compulsory joint registration of births was only one aspect of a much broader scheme of reform. The Government is focusing on the low-hanging fruit instead of engaging in the root-and-branch reform that is necessary.
Compulsory joint registration of births means the name of both the mother and father would appear on the birth certificate of every child. It is relatively uncontroversial to suggest a child should have information about, or at the very least the name of, both parents.
That’s a disappointment, and, if all the government were doing was opting for less impressive reform, it wouldn’t be so bad. But that’s not all that would happen if the proposal comes into effect.
First, when a child is born in Ireland to a single mother, she becomes eligible for state assistance. Indeed, last year Ireland spent some €1 billion on the program alone. So the main focus of including single fathers on birth certificates will be to recoup the state monies paid out to single mothers. That’s basically what’s done in the United States. Here, when single mothers receive benefits from a variety of different sources such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, it’s Dad who pays it back.
As a concept, that’s not unreasonable, although in practice it often is, as in the case of child support collection agencies who tag any man on two legs with the obligation to reimburse the state, whether he’s the child’s father or not. But as I said, the concept that parents, not the state, should support their children is sound enough.
Ah, but in Ireland, there’s a catch. Under the government’s proposal that requires a father’s name on every birth certificate, single dads will get the obligation to repay the state, but will receive no corresponding parental rights. In short, it’s all cost and no benefit for single fathers if the state gets its way. As things stand now, having his name on a birth certificate benefits a single dad not at all.
In fact, under the current law, the inclusion of the father’s name on the birth certificate gives rise to no legal rights or responsibilities.
The government wants to amend that to read “the inclusion of the father’s name on the birth certificate gives rise to no legal rights, only responsibilities.”
And that’s not what the Law Reform Commission recommended. It wanted the law changed to provide all parents rights without regard to their marital status. That is, it wanted to give single dads both responsibilities and rights. The government Xed out the rights part and kept the responsibilities. After all, it sees a source of money, so why give up anything when you stand only to get?
As things stand in Ireland now, a single father has to rely on the good will of the mother to obtain the rights of guardianship over his child. If she refuses, he has to go to court and get an order of guardianship. That blatantly anti-father requirement nevertheless passed muster with the appropriate European court interpreting fathers’ rights under the various conventions applicable to European Community members. The upshot is that, in a poor country in which many men are unemployed, the cost of having to litigate one’s parental rights means that many fathers are unable to establish a relationship – legal or practical – to their kids. As is so often the case, fathers’ rights are effectively in mothers’ hands.
Blatantly unjust, obviously misandric as all that is, it looks like the Irish government thinks it’s fine and dandy.