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British fathers to be given six months' paid paternity leave

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Fathers will be allowed to take six months' paid paternity leave instead of mothers under new government proposals. The law will not come into effect until maternity cover is extended to 12 months, which will happen in April 2009 at the earliest.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has opened a consultation on its plans to extend maternity leave and to make it more flexible.

"We know that people want greater flexibility to better juggle their work and family life and that fathers increasingly want to play a bigger part in the upbringing of their children," said Jim Fitzpatrick, Employment Relations Minister at the DTI.

Maternity leave was extended in April from six to nine months, and the Government has said that it wants to extend that to 12 months by the end of the current parliamentary term. Once that happens, the second six month period will be made available to either parent to take as leave.

"If a mother wants to return to work before her child's first birthday, the father will be able to take some, or all, of the second half of the child's first year as paid paternity leave," said Fitzpatrick. "For the first time ever, this will give parents the flexibility to divide a period of paid leave between them. Parents will be able to decide how to best balance work and family commitments."

The consultation process will ask employers and other interested parties whether or not parents should be able to self-certify as eligible for the leave, or whether business and Government should operate a certification scheme.

The DTI document says that self certification "would keep the process straightforward for businesses," but that "checklists and new official forms would provide employers with the confidence to administer the scheme effectively and employees to participate in it".

Fathers will be able to take up to 26 weeks of paternity leave as long as the first 26 weeks were taken by the mother of a child and as long as the mother has returned to work.

The DTI said that though it uses the term "fathers", it intended the proposals to apply to partners of a child's mother, civil partners of mothers, and adopting couples.

The DTI wants to introduce the fathers' rights to leave at the same time as it extends leave to 12 months, it said. Though the earliest date that this could happen is April 2009, it said that this was not a deadline or a firm proposal for a start date for the changes.

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