In the latest instalment of Bridget Jones, Bridget is pregnant. The father? Human rights barrister Mark Darcy or billionaire dating website founder Jack Quant. So, “Who’s the Daddy?” and what are the legal considerations for Bridget, Mark and Jack?
Bridget’s possible financial claims – known as claims under Schedule 1 of the Children Act – on behalf of, and after the birth of, Jones Junior, could be significant given the high level of financial security of both the potential fathers.
In England, it is possible for an unmarried parent to bring financial claims on behalf of a child against the non-resident parent, including for the payment of child maintenance, lump sum payments, school fees and capital provision to provide a home for the child (although any housing provision would revert to the non-resident parent on the child’s 18th birthday or the conclusion of their full time education if later).
In making an award, the court would take into account the resources, needs and responsibilities of Bridget and the father, as well as Jones Junior’s needs, welfare and the manner in which Jones Junior could expect to be educated.
Bridget lives in a small flat in Borough Market, London. The Court is likely to accept that Bridget should be rehoused in a larger and more child friendly property which bore some relation to the father’s accommodation.
In terms of the level of child maintenance, the Court will take into account Bridget’s income from her work as a television producer whilst recognising her responsibilities and the sacrifices she will need to make as Jones Junior’s primary carer. In the case of a claim against Jack, Bridget’s child maintenance is likely to be determined generously given his significant wealth. In ascertaining Bridget’s claims for Jones Junior, the Court will place no great weight on the length or quality of the parent’s relationship or the fact that Jones Junior was unplanned.
This awkward three way partnership could have been avoided during Bridget’s pregnancy if she had completed an in utero DNA test to determine Jones Junior’s paternity. However, in England, the Court will not order pre-natal paternity testing.
Following the birth of a child, if he or she has no legally declared father, either parent – or the child itself, with the assistance of an adult or litigation friend during its minority – may apply for a Declaration of Parentage which would ordinarily be determined by DNA testing.
If Bridget were to refuse a DNA test on Jones Junior, Mark and/or Jack could apply to the Court requiring one. The Court would usually make such an order on the basis that it would be in the child’s best interests.
Bridget herself may be forced to apply for a Declaration of Parentage to establish whether Mark or Jack is financially responsible in the context of a Schedule 1 claim or in an assessment for child maintenance. If Jack and Mark both refused to provide a sample for DNA testing, it would not be possible for Bridget to bring an application for a Declaration of Parentage against them simultaneously. She would need to decide which of them is more likely to be the father, although it would be open to her to seek a declaration that Jack is the father on the basis that he has a higher net worth.
This issue arose in a 1994 case where the mother of the child had been having sexual relations with three men, any of whom may have been the child’s father. The mother brought a claim for maintenance against one of the men, a wealthy businessman. The man denied he was the father and refused to undergo a blood test directed by the Court. In the circumstances, the Court drew the inference that he was the father.
So, once Bridget decides who to seek a Declaration of Parentage against, any refusal to undergo a DNA test would likely mean that the Court would make a Declaration of Parentage on the basis of an adverse inference (thereby allowing Bridget to make financial claims on behalf of Jones Junior). If a DNA test was subsequently completed an application could be made to the Court to set aside the Declaration.
Parental responsibility denotes all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to a particular child and his property.
If Bridget is not married to Mark or Jack at the time of Jones Junior’s birth, she will automatically have parental responsibility but Jack and Mark will not. However, one of them would have the ability to acquire it after Jones Junior’s birth by marrying Bridget; entering into a parental responsibility agreement with her; becoming formally appointed as a guardian; being registered on the register of births; adopting Jones Junior; or by obtaining a Court Order.
Beneath the surface of this complicated love triangle lie a myriad of legal issues. It would appear that Daniel Cleaver has dodged a bullet, for now at least…
Emma Willing is a managing associate and Krishma Sangani is a trainee at Mishcon de Reya.