Student inspires landmark paternity law review

2 February 2006

Julie Cappleman-MorganA legal loophole that left fathers with no right to additional Paternity Leave to care for their babies, in the event of the mother’s death, is set to be closed, thanks to the work of a West Midlands student.

Julie Cappleman-Morgan, a graduate of UCE Birmingham’s Master’s degree course in Applied Social Research will find out later this year, the extent to which her dissertation has prompted a change in the law.

The Work and Families Bill, which is set to become law later this year, is expected to close a sexual discrimination loophole denying fathers equal rights to care for their newborn children.

Julie’s research revealed that even in the event of the mother’s death, during or shortly after childbirth, the father of the child was only entitled to two week’s paid and four week’s unpaid paternity leave.

“Adoptive couples have the right to choose which partner will take ‘maternity’ leave and which partner will take the ‘paternity’ leave,” explains Julie. “This is despite neither partner having a biological claim to physical birth recovery or breast feeding needs.

“I wanted to look at whether, in the unfortunate event of maternal death, a father could take over the maternity leave and benefits so that as sole surviving parent he had the same parental rights as new mothers and more importantly could provide the same level of child care.”

Julie discovered that maternity leave was considered an individual right of the mother and could not be transferred to the father.

“I was astounded that the apparent policy inequality had not been picked up,” said Julie.

“I felt that this was sexual discrimination and made that point in my MA dissertation entitled ‘Daddy Cool: Are health and parenting policies ‘freezing out’ new fathers?’”

During her research Julie worked with Fathers Direct, the national information centre on fatherhood. They passed the dissertation on to the Equal Opportunities Commission, who cited it in the report ‘Shared caring: Bringing fathers into the frame’ commissioned from Dr Margaret O’Brien.

Julie was invited to contribute to the Equal Opportunities Commission workshop on Shared Parenting, where her work was noted by the Department of Trade and Industry and taken into account for the Work and Families Bill.

Duncan Fisher, Director of Fathers Direct, said: “The new bill includes transfer of maternity leave to fathers if the mother dies, which is entirely due to Julie discovering the loophole during her research, which no one else ever noticed.

“The transfer of leave should now become legislation. Julie’s work has changed the law, which does not happen very often and is a brilliant achievement on her part.”

Julie said: “I am absolutely thrilled that my MA research has led to this potential change in the law which might go some way to addressing current inequalities in social policy.

”When I embarked on my MA course I could never have imagined the impact my research might have and I am indebted to UCE Birmingham and in particular to Course Director Dr Joyce Canaan for her encouragement and for giving me the confidence to contribute in my own small way to positive changes to our society.”

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