Saturday 18 November 2017

Children and Family Bill compounds our unfair treatment of unmarried fathers

'If you are an unmarried father, you may not fully comprehend just how few legal rights you have in respect of your child.'
'If you are an unmarried father, you may not fully comprehend just how few legal rights you have in respect of your child.'
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

For many, the Children and Family Relationships Bill has become synonymous with the Same-Sex Couples Adoption Bill, but this narrow focus belies the biggest impact of the legislation - on the relationship of unmarried fathers with their children.

Currently, around 24,000 children are born every year with no legal relationship at all with their fathers. In contrast, in 2012, there were just 49 adoption orders in the entire State. Given these numbers, it is obvious that the group most affected by the legislation will be unmarried parents and their children. Despite this, there has been little focus on what the Bill actually means for these families.

It is a shocking indictment of our political system that this Bill marks the first big reform of guardianship laws since the 1960s, when just 3pc of births were to unmarried women. Today, that figure is one-third and growing every year. For that reason, the Bill is a welcome modernisation of the law to reflect the reality that not every child is born into a traditional marital family. Regrettably, it doesn't go far enough when it comes to unmarried fathers, who have long been treated as second-class citizens by a legal system that seems to view them as nothing more than cash-dispensing units with no interest in the upbringing or welfare of their children.

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