Unmarried fathers - Irish Times September 10, 2009
The Irish Times - Thursday, September 10, 2009
IT IS more than 20 years since the status of illegitimacy was
abolished, following a 1982 report from the Law Reform Commission on the
law regarding children. This had a major impact on the ending of the
stigma attached to the children of unmarried parents and on their
rights. Since then the number of non-marital births has risen to one in
three with the result that the reform has had profound implications for
hundreds of thousands of children.
That same report also
recommended that unmarried fathers be recognised as guardians of their
children but this was not followed through into the legislation. Now, 27
years later, the commission is reiterating this recommendation in a
consultation paper. It proposes leaving open the possibility that there
may be rare circumstances where it would not be in the best interests of
the child that its non-marital father be joint guardian, but stresses
that the presumption should be in favour of his guardianship – which the
commission redefines as parental responsibility in line with
The commission is also proposing a
number of measures to encourage unmarried parents to put the father’s
name on the birth certificates of their children. At the moment about 20
per cent of unmarried mothers register the birth of their children
without registering the name of the father, thereby depriving the child
of his or her full right to an identity.
The rights of children to
the company and support of the extended family is also dealt with.
There are numerous instances where, for example, the parent or parents
are unable to care for a child and the grandparents take on the role.
However, they cannot be the legal guardians and cannot make decisions
about medical treatment, passports or education. The commission makes a
number of welcome proposals to address this and other issues.
legal reforms are long overdue and should be acted upon quickly. It is
absurd that a father who wants to be involved in the life of his child
should not have legal recognition of his position and equally absurd
that the child cannot be secure in the knowledge that the law will
uphold the place of his or her father in that life.
The form of
the Irish family has changed very radically in the last 25 years and the
law needs to reflect this so that children in non-traditional families
have the same rights to a guaranteed place in their lives for all those
who love them and care for them as do children in the traditional
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