Orlanda's Story: Widowed, Pregnant and Challenging Injustices

February 2023

WAY Widowed and Young Ambassador Orlanda Bryars was featured on The One Show on 7 February alongside fellow WAY members Joana and Kelly. Here she highlights the heart-breaking injustices facing pregnant women who weren’t married at the time of their partner’s death and shares some advice for other women facing the same hurdles…

Orlanda and Julian

My late partner Julian and I were on holiday when he unexpectedly and suddenly died of a heart attack; I was five months pregnant when it happened. If you are also a part of this subgroup of WAY members who were widowed while pregnant – or if you are indeed eligible to join – believe me when I say I am so, so sorry.

Anyone widowed at a young age knows that the true size of the loss we’re experiencing is so much larger than people could ever imagine and, on top of this, the additional admin in the aftermath of the death of a partner creates a horrific to do list that is second to none. In this particular subset of widowed people, however, there may be an extra, unpleasant hurdle to conquer. If, like me, you were not married to your partner when they died and you were pregnant, there is an unfair and challenging additional process you will need to go through when it comes to registering the birth of your baby.

It is not fair or right but, as the law currently stands in the UK, when you want to register the birth of your baby, the registrar is not allowed to add your late partner’s name to your child’s birth certificate, if you were not married when they died. Instead, there is a large blank space where the name should be... The law is archaic and illogical in so many ways, of course, as if you were married at the time they died there is an apparent ‘trust’ or assumption that they must have been the biological father.

I don’t want to dwell on how unfair or insulting this is. Instead, I wanted to give as much hope and information and encouragement as possible. But it is worth starting off with the note that this whole rule begins from an illogical position and so unfortunately much of the process afterwards is illogical and unpredictable too.

There are likely to be many potential hurdles that you can’t foresee and that will trip you up emotionally and logistically. For me, regardless of all the challenges, I felt compelled to take on the process of going through the court system to have our daughter’s birth certificate amended. I wanted Julian’s name next to ours. It just felt so unjust – and to have him ripped from our history added insult to injury.

If you are about to make your own application, I hope that what I’m about to say will help you face it head on and with some ideas of what coping mechanisms you are going to use when you do. 

Registering your baby’s birth

Orlanda and her daughter

The Registrar does not have the power to add the name of your child’s father themselves. If you were to register your baby and have a marriage certificate number, your late partner automatically gets added. It’s horrible, but as it currently stands you just need to initially register your child without the father’s details and then undergo a ‘Declaration of Parentage’ to get a court order that goes up to the General Registrar. You can then reapply to get the birth certificate re-issued back where you initially registered the birth. As it’s not the Registrar's fault and they won’t know your situation, my advice is to just get through this initial step as quickly as you can, and with someone to hold your hand.

Declaration of Parentage

This is the court process you will need to use to have the father added to your baby’s birth certificate. You will need to download a ‘C63 Declaration of Parentage form’ from the www.gov.uk website and submit it to the court, along with all your other evidence. This form was, in the most part, created for disputes over parentage so it is not designed to include this scenario. Put as much additional info stating why you are doing this and explaining that one parent is deceased.  

Gathering Evidence

There are many things you can use to prove your partner is the father of your baby. My own evidence included a DNA report, proof of us living together, joint bank account statements, screenshots of our messages and social media posts about the pregnancy and our relationship, and a very long witness statement.

It is best to include as much evidence as possible. Anything you can put together to show your relationship was, by all accounts, a marriage regardless of the technicality.

A DNA profile may sound impossible when the person has died but there are court appointed companies that will create a DNA profile from relatives of the deceased, which is then compared to your baby’s. I used DNA Legal, who were helpful enough, but from memory I think it cost me in the region of £500.

Attending Court

This will be a short hearing, where if in person (Covid restrictions allowing) will probably take around half an hour. The judge may ask you to go away and come back whilst they read the evidence.

On the whole, the judges I met (yes, plural) had never come across this process and so were thrown by no one responding to their notification of a hearing. I was also often asked at the hearings ‘if Julian would be attending’. It is not only a technical issue but, of course, an emotional one and something to remember. You will be the expert in the room on this issue and will need to explain the situation, the process and probably the existence of the law itself to each judge or administrator.

Things get lost a surprising number of the times, so always have copies of everything with you when you attend the hearing. At one of my hearings – the second one – a flustered, stressed and late judge had only got two pages of my evidence in front of her for some unknown reason, and so couldn’t make a judgment.

Potential pitfalls

Other things to be prepared for: make sure there is nothing in your application that ANYONE could take umbrage with. For example, one of my judges decided that the fact that Julian’s death certificate was in French was a problem, so I had to go away and get one certified and translated. Another cost and another blow.

There is a huge amount of luck and chance to the process in terms of which judge you get and how smoothly your application goes through the system so ultimately, you just have to do the best you can and try to be prepared for delays and frustration.

Two years, four court hearings, a mountain of paperwork and a lot of waiting later, I have Cassia’s birth certificate rectified. I have to admit I imagined swooshing out of Chelsea Town Hall to an applause and the flashing of camera bulbs and maybe feeling vindicated. But as it was, the certificate arrived in the post with no cover letter or fanfare. The word ‘deceased’ was in brackets next to Julian’s name.

But I had to go through this, for Julian, for Cassia and for my own sense of justice. And I intend to make it easier for women who follow in my path… Once I’ve had one unbroken night’s sleep.

I should add that it is not this hard for everyone. I know there are WAY members who have sailed through one hearing. On the whole, the judges in family courts seem warm and genuine and they’re not trying to make your life or your grief any harder. It’s a ridiculous box-ticking exercise where no one really knows what the boxes are.

"With amazing organisations like WAY helping us to highlight this lunacy, I am sure we will affect change in the UK registration system so that future widowed mothers don’t face these archaic laws."

Orlanda shared her story alongside fellow WAY members Joana and Kelly on BBC's The BBC One Show on Tuesday, 7 February on BBC One. You can catch up here (until 5 March 2023).

You can also hear Orlanda's story over on WAY's YouTube Channel here

Read more about WAY's campaign