· Features

Happy Fathers day: how does the Government intend to shake up paternity arrangements?

You're at the end of your tether. Batman has been using the new sofa as a launch pad for the last hour.

The creative explosion in the kitchen would put even Blue Peter to shame. And that's when it happens: the molecular fusion of the speakers and the glitter paint. In times like this you find yourself relying on the age old phrase that mothers have fallen back on for generations: "Just wait until your father gets home..."

Well, if current proposals are to be believed, Batman might not have too long to wait. With Father's Day tomorrow, it's an opportune time to look at how the Government intends to shake up the current arrangements for childcare.

The current position

For a number of years, fathers have been entitled to up to two weeks' statutory paternity leave, paid at a flat rate, on the birth of their child. This applies to qualifying 'fathers' - ie biological fathers, civil partners or the equivalent where a child is adopted.

A more recent change has seen fathers with a child born after 6 April 2011 being entitled to a period of additional paternity leave. Provided a father meets certain qualifying conditions, he would effectively be entitled to share a portion of the mother's maternity leave.

The father can take anything between 2 and 26 weeks of additional paternity leave, which must be taken during a specific window, providing the mother has returned to work. The leave would attract the balance of any remaining statutory pay that the mother would have been entitled to. In practice, however, it seems that the take-up of this right has been very low.

A father may also be eligible for a further 13 weeks' unpaid parental leave per child, which could be taken any time up to the child's fifth birthday (or 18th birthday for disabled children).

The Government's proposals

More recently, the Government has announced plans to further strive towards a concept of shared leave and increase enhanced rights for fathers in this respect.

The current proposal is to introduce a concept of shared parental leave. A woman would retain the right to an 18-week period of maternity leave following the child's birth, with the corresponding maternity pay and allowance arrangements that currently exist for this period. The father would also remain entitled to his two weeks' of paternity leave around the child's birth.

However, thereafter the remaining 34 weeks would be seen as 'parental leave' which could be shared out between the parents as they see fit. Either the mother or father could take the flexible element of the leave, concurrently or at different times, and would not be required to take the leave in one continuous block. It could even be taken in blocks of 1 day, to effectively allow a return on a part time basis, enabling the father the same prospect of part time working during this time (although this would be subject to agreement with the employer).

The original aim was to introduce these proposals in April 2015 and, although they have been subject to consultation, the response to the consultation has not yet been published so further details are awaited.

If these latest proposals are anything to go by, it seems that the government is forward thinking in respect of fathers' rights in an employment context and there appears to be a recent shift towards a more equal allocation of the right to leave for both mothers and fathers. However, judging by the very limited uptake that we have seen of additional paternity leave thus far, it may be we have a little way to go before the idea of genuinely shared leave is socially accepted and people feel comfortable using it.

Shelley Crofts (pictured), is an associate from UK law firm Burges Salmon