Nova Scotia

Halifax mom shocked by form for 'unmarried mother' to confirm baby's dad

A Halifax woman says a letter she received from Nova Scotia's vital statistics department is outrageous and outdated because it requires the "unmarried mother" to confirm the identity of her baby's father.

'I think it sends the message that it's shameful to be unmarried,' says Kirstin Howell

Kirstin Howell and Greg Moss were shocked to learn they need a witness to confirm Moss is their son's father. They say with so many different types of families now, it's discriminatory to ask some to do the extra paperwork. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

A Halifax woman says a letter she received from Nova Scotia's vital statistics department is outrageous and outdated because it requires the "unmarried mother" to confirm the identity of her newborn's father.

Kirstin Howell delivered Milo six weeks ago with her fiancé, Greg Moss, by her side. The new parents filled out the standard registration of live birth form while they were at the hospital, and didn't think anything of it until they received the letter earlier this week.

The letter says because Milo is "a child born to an unmarried mother/parent," the parents must fill out another form, the parent declaration, in front of a witness like the division registrar of births, a notary or a justice of the peace.

"I feel like it's 1962 instead of 2019," Howell said.

"I think it sends the message that it's shameful to be unmarried and that I'm not to be trusted to state who the father is on my child's birth record."

Howell says that on top of adjusting to life with Milo, she has to find an official to help fill out the paperwork before Dec. 1. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

The family has a deadline to send the document before Dec. 1 or Moss's information will be removed from the original registration form.

Vital statistics has received other complaints about the document, which has been sent to unmarried parents for at least a decade, said Krista Dewey, the deputy registrar general.

She said a review of the form has been underway for several months.

"We want our forms and processes to reflect the lives of people of Nova Scotia," she said.

Dewey said the initial registration form only has room for one parent to sign it. If the parents are married, there's a provision to accept that one signature on behalf of both parents.

NDP MLA Susan Leblanc says the Vital Statistics Act is outdated. She introduced legislation a year ago calling for the act to be updated, but it has not been passed. (CBC)

"The way that we're acting now is based on our current legislative requirements," Dewey said.

She couldn't give an estimate for when the review might be complete, but said unmarried parents will have to continue to submit the parent declaration form in the meantime.

'Archaic' law, says MLA

A review of the Vital Statistics Act is long overdue, said NDP legislature member Susan Leblanc. The MLA introduced legislation a year ago calling for the act to be updated, but it has not been passed.

"Currently in the act, if a child is born and their parents are not married, they're considered illegitimate," she said. "I just think it's archaic, frankly."

Leblanc, who is also unmarried and has two children with her partner, said there shouldn't be different rules for those who choose to marry and those who don't. She also said the proposed changes to the act would better reflect modern definitions of families and parents. 

"For instance, our act would remove references to mother and father, and replace them with gender-neutral terms 'parent,'" said Leblanc.

"We know that there are plenty of children who are born whose parents are two mothers, two fathers or maybe not on the gender binary at all."

Just last year, Nova Scotia removed outdated language from another piece of legislation. On May 1, 2018, government modernized its Marriage Act to, among other things, remove references to "spinsters" and "illegitimate children."

Howell, meanwhile, will make another trip to the hospital to make sure the forms are filled out. She doesn't want to risk having her fiancé's name removed from his son's birth registration.

"Other people might think well this is just a small thing, but it's just another form of discrimination toward women, toward people who choose to have different families," she said.

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About the Author

Carolyn Ray

Videojournalist

Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at Carolyn.Ray@cbc.ca

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