Legal Eagle : Who am I - The 'Paper Daddy'?

July 25, 2016

Generally speaking, fathers in Jamaica can be placed in different categories. Some are registered at lines nine to 12 of the birth registration form as the father of the child. This registration is on paper and so a father registered may be called the 'paper daddy'. If a DNA is done to confirm that a particular person is the father of the child, in that he cannot be ruled out as being the father, that person could be called the 'DNA daddy'. If there is no paper and no DNA, then a father may just be the 'word-of- mouth daddy'.

It is true that on some occasions, the 'paper daddy' or 'word-of-mouth daddy' is also the "DNA daddy", but often times, the three do not necessarily coincide. Also, there is a presumption that children born to parents who are married are the children of the husband, but, as many Jamaicans can attest, that presumption has been rebutted over and over again.

Under the Registration (Births and Deaths) Act, 1881 (hereinafter called 'the Act'), it is the duty of the father and mother or, in default of both parents, the occupier of the house in which the child was born, among other persons, to give to the Registrar of Births and Deaths information of the particulars to register the child within 42 days after the child was born. Interestingly, the Act defines father as "a person who is married to the mother of the child at the time of conception or at time thereafter and prior to the child's birth". It is clear that this does not say who is, in fact, the 'DNA daddy'.

The question of who is the 'true' father has been a problem in Jamaica for decades. In fact, the problem is seemingly more widespread than we can imagine, to the extent that the Government has, for many years, announced plans to make it mandatory for the father's name to be recorded on the child's birth certificate. In this regard, the Government had indicated in December 2009 that legislation was on track for the mandatory registration of all fathers. However, the Government indicated that it was waiting on DNA legislation to provide the mothers with legal recourse. The plan to enact DNA legislation is a smart move by the Government because, without DNA, all we have are 'paper daddies' in proof of paternity. Funny, but true.

Having the true father's particulars registered at birth is, indeed, the right thing to do. For instance, it will make it far easier for the mother or guardian of the child to apply for a maintenance order from the court pursuant to the Maintenance Act, in the event that father refuses to maintain the child. Also, a child who has his father's name registered on his birth certificate will also find it easier to benefit from his father's estate in the event his father should die without leaving a will (intestate). This is because there would be no need for that child to first seek orders from the court for a declaration of his paternity and or to make an application to the registrar to have his father's particulars added to his birth certificate. The name on the birth certificate would also assist if the child needs to make an application under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act, which could be necessary, even if his father died leaving a will.

The fundamental point is that there are many important reasons for every child to know his or her biological father and not just to know the 'paper daddy' or the 'word-of-mouth daddy'. The DNA test at birth coupled with compulsory registration is the answer. It would serve to eradicate the 'jacket' phenomenon and the many problems associated with absence of proof of true paternity.

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