Well it’s happened. The new paternity leave laws are now in effect. Any men who become fathers (either biologically or adoptive) from 3 April 2011 are entitled to additional paternity leave. The big question is, thumb will dads take it?

Until recently, drugstore dads have been allowed just two weeks of paid paternity leave within 56 days of the baby’s birth – at the princely sum of £124.88 (now £128.73) a week, or 90% of their average weekly earnings, whichever is less.

The new law says that dads can now take additional paternity leave – up to 26 weeks of their partner’s 52 weeks maternity leave (of which 39 weeks are paid). Dads can take this anytime from 20 weeks after the child is born, but it must have finished by the child’s first birthday. Confused?

Here’s a scenario:

Mum has a baby and decides to spend 6 months (26 weeks) at home. She is paid 90% of her salary for the first 6 weeks. Thereafter her earnings fall to £128.73 per week or 90% of her weekly wage, whichever is lower. She gets this paid for the 20 weeks she chooses to stay at home.

Meanwhile dad takes his statutory paternity leave during the first two weeks after the baby is born to help mum out. He earns the lower of £128.73 or 90% of his weekly earnings. He then goes back to work.

Once the 26 weeks are up and mum decides to return to work, dad is now entitled to use up the remaining 26 weeks of maternity leave as additional paternity leave. However, he will only be paid of £128.73 or 90% of his weekly earnings for the first 13 weeks because parents in total are entitled to 39 weeks of paid parental leave. So this means that for the next 13 weeks, dad is paid nothing.

Assuming that mum and dad earn the same salary, this is a great way for parents to share the parenting duties. Dads get to spend more time with their children and mums don’t have the entire child-rearing burden on their shoulders, enabling them to continue their careers more effectively. Many relationships break down due to the inequality and resentment felt as women stay at home raising the children, sacrificing their careers, while men feel the burden of being the sole bread winner. The net result is no-one is happy. Additional paternity leave could change this.

BUT, and it’s a big but, how often do mums and dads earn the exact same salary or even a relatively similar salary? And that’s when this new law falls down.

The requirement that dads can only take the additional paternity leave after the first 20 weeks means that they are more likely to have the second half of the allocated 52 weeks leave, which means they are very likely to be earning nothing for 13 weeks. If he is the higher bread winner, it’s not financially viable for most families. If she is the higher bread winner, then forcing her to spend the first 20 weeks at home earning a small percentage of her salary while dad is forced to stay at work doesn’t make financial sense either.

Our verdict

We think any moves that help dads become more involved with raising their children and brings greater equality to family life is a good thing. But we think the new additional paternity leave laws will be a financial challenge for most families.

As a small business, we’re also very aware of the impact this law will have on employers. It’s tough finding the right people and covering maternity or paternity costs is an expensive undertaking for start ups. As both parents and employers we’re torn between wanting to enable parents to spend time with their children and ensuring our business survives.

We still believe that there is one solution that enables shared parenting, while still earning a good household income, and helping small businesses stay afloat – flexible working. If employers could allow families to work remotely from home or locations like Third Door even some of the time, a better overall balance could be achieved.

Give us your thoughts? Will you or your partner be taking additional paternity leave? Does the law go far enough? Too far? We’d love to hear your thoughts and get the debate started.