West Bay MLA Rolston Anglin admits he hadn’t given much thought to the country’s laws on proving a child’s parentage until he was approached last year by a young woman who had been left in the lurch by a ‘deadbeat dad.’
The woman, mother of a teenage girl, came to Mr. Anglin as a last resort. The man she believed to be the father of her child had left the Cayman Islands because of problems with the law years ago and had then returned. She was not receiving any assistance raising the girl; the couple had never married.
She went to court seeking to obtain child support and was told the time frame within which she needed to prove this man was the father of her child had long since passed.
According to Cayman’s Affiliation Law (1995 Revision), a mother seeking to prove their child’s parentage must register the father’s name in the Registry of Births within a year of the child being born. If that is not done, the birth certificate can never be amended, essentially meaning the child remains illegitimate his or her entire life.
Mr. Anglin was stunned.
‘We have situations that have been allowed to happen that should shock the conscience of any human being,’ Mr. Anglin told the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly last week. ‘The rights of children are deeply disenfranchised by legislation like this that allows a man…to do as they please.’
Mr. Anglin is seeking to change the Affiliation Law (1995 Revision). Lawmakers approved a Private Members Motion he made last week, which sought to remove any time limit on registering paternity. Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said government would back the proposed changes.
The relatively minor amendment that would be required to remove the 12-month time limit for registering a father’s name would not change rules regarding custody of a child, visitation rights, child support payments and the like. The courts would still have to make judgments on those issues based on the facts of the each case presented.
But Mr. Anglin said ‘arbitrary and archaic’ laws like the one governing birth registrations ‘cannot continue in a modern society.’
‘Today marks a good day for women and children in the Cayman Islands,’ Mr. Anglin said after his motion was approved.
A vote on a Private Member’s Motion in Legislative Assembly does not carry the force of law. It is basically a procedural tool lawmakers use to notify the government of their desire to change legislation. If the government doesn’t approve of the motion, it has little chance of having any practical effect.
However, in this case, both the opposition and sitting government supported the change.
‘It would shock many of us if we had any idea of the number of birth certificates in this country, for well-established families, where the name of the father is missing from the Register (of Births),’ George Town MLA Alfonso Wright said. ‘I see no good reason why we should not allow for the change in the law.’
‘It’s unfortunate, but these days we have more and more single parents,’ Bodden Town MLA Osbourne Bodden said. ‘Laws change as times change.’
Mr. Anglin also pointed out another section of the Affiliation Law (1995 Revision) that may need amending. He said the law lists 15 as the age until which a child is required to be maintained by the parents.
The Cayman Islands education system now requires children to stay in school until they’re at least 16. The revised Education Law is expected to bump that age up to at least 17.