Do you need to re-register the birth of a child born when you are unmarried and later tie the knot? An outdated law says you do. Katharine Marshall explains why.
The 21st Century family is again the focus of media attention, with questions being asked about changing a child’s surname when unmarried parents tie the knot at a later date.
At the centre of the debate is the question of whether you have to formally re-register the birth of a child born when the parents were not man and wife, but who subsequently get married.
Many people are surprised to learn that there is still a legal requirement to do so – and a penalty for not doing.
Why the law can be confusing for parents
Changes to the law in 2003 mean unmarried fathers automatically have legal parental responsibility for their children if they are included on the child’s birth certificate when the birth is registered.
On the face of it, this would appear to remove the need to re-register after the marriage of the parents at a later date. However, in legal terms, the re-registration process has absolutely nothing to do with parental responsibility.
Parents must still obey an outdated law
The Legitimacy Act 1976 says you must re-register a birth following subsequent marriage of the natural parents. Although bypassed by legal and social changes, the law has not been amended.
It was designed to ensure that a natural child of the parents was recognised as a ‘child of the marriage’ in the days when the legitimacy of a child could impact his or her ability to inherit, compared to siblings born during their parents’ marriage.
The question of ‘legitimacy’ no longer affects a child’s ability to inherit, provided he or she can prove they are a child of the parents. Despite this, the requirement still exists and the Legitimacy Act 1976 remains on the statute books.
Why awareness of the law is sometimes patchy
Parents’ first experience of the legal procedure comes when they register the birth of their child. If they are not married the registrar may explain the need to re-register if they marry in future.
Couples tying the knot who already have children may also be reminded on this requirement by the registrar at the point of their marriage. While this requirement appears on many local authority websites, the practice appears to vary from area to area. Also, there is a time limit of three months from the date of the marriage to re-register the birth.
The legal penalty for not re-registering
Most people are astonished to learn that you can be fined for failure to re-register – although the fine is only £2 and I have never come across any parent who has been penalised. Even so, I am sure there is a huge number of modern families out there who have no idea that this requirement even exists.
Importantly, however, the implications of failing to re-register in terms of inheritance are absolutely none.
For further advice on re-registering children, call Katharine Marshall on 0161 761 4611 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org