The government has launched its latest consultation on plans designed to help working parents balance work and family life.
If plans go ahead, parents of babies due from April 2009 will be able to divide a period of paid leave between them.
Fathers will have the opportunity to take up to 26 weeks Additional Paternity Leave to care for their child if certain conditions are met, including the mother returning to work.
The government also intends to make additional leave and pay available to partners and civil partners of mothers and members of adopting couples who meet the eligibility criteria.
We asked for your comments, a selection of which are below. This debate is now closed.
This is a completely ridiculous idea, speaking as both a parent and an employee / employer. What an administrative nightmare. I think it would only work if both parents agreed at the start of the maternity leave what they were going to do and had to stick to it, thereby removing the flexibility proposed. I would not recommend another government agency to manage this.
Nicky Blanning, Cambridge
I am on extended leave now, all unpaid, but I am glad I have had the chance to do it as when I had my eldest child this wasn't in place. I have taken 11 months by the time I go back to work, but the last six months haven't been paid. I have argued before that we should follow Europe where mothers do not have to go back to work straight away and are paid to stay at home. Whether it is the man or woman who stays at home - who cares as long as they decide between themselves and are happy with it. The baby will be glad to have one of their parents with them all the time rather than a stranger.
The only way I can see this being of benefit would be if the female in the household earned significantly more than her partner and it would be more beneficial financially for her to return to work sooner after the baby was born. Whether we like it or not, there is still sex discrimination in this country: a man having a part-time job does not seem to be acceptable, so I can't see many employers embracing paid leave for fathers. The government should be focusing on increasing the amount payable for paid leave, rather than extending the time off, as many mothers I know simply cannot afford to live on £100 per week for nine months, let alone 12. Make it affordable for one parent to be able to stay at home full time.
Isabel Rivera-Aldridge, Grantham, Lincs
My husband and I are in this situation at the moment. I am going back to work at five months although I am entitled to be off until February 2008 - but he is going to stay home instead. We are financially missing out on my SMP for four months as he will not receive anything for doing this. He has handed in his notice and I have given mine, but with some irritation at the unjust situation. The new scheme should be welcomed, as fathers are just as brilliant as mothers when it comes to taking care of your children and they should be encouraged to do so if it works for them as a family. Any balancing out of the system is great - I only wish it were happening now!
Zoe Simms, Banbury
I live and work in Norway. Here the father gets two weeks paid leave straight after the birth, and a minimum of five weeks of the maternity/paternity leave. The parents decide how to divide the paternity leave between them. We choose between a total of 53 weeks at 80% pay, or 43 weeks at 100% pay. Parents leave is paid by the government, and coordinated by the social security office. Each parent also has up to 10 days each per year to be at home to look after sick children, or stand in if the main carer is ill. It is very rare that a father does not use his share of the parents leave. There is no question of the employer preventing the father taking the paternity leave or child-related sick leave. The system is generous, and ensures a stable workforce. Norwegian income tax is also relatively high.
I can share my wife's parental leave with her as we choose. The parent is paid 100% of their wages, with no limit for six months and has a right to a further two years unpaid leave if they wish. When is the UK going to catch up?
Ian, Wroclaw, Poland
On paternity leave, the government's heart is probably in the right place, but it needs to consult properly in order to get the practical points right. There have been massive problems with the Child Support Agency, recruitment of doctors, the prison service and so on. I'm not sure that this government could organise a booze-up in a brewery.
Chris Grey, Guildford
The government still believes women should look after babies, as the new law will state that men will have to be employed by their existing employer for a minimum amount of time before being allowed leave, but a mother can have a whole year off regardless of her length of service. And why only a maximum of 26 weeks for the father? What if the mother wants to return to work after two months - the law says a woman only has to have two weeks off after giving birth! It is just lip service - unless equal rights are introduced, there will always be discrimination.
This system has worked wonderfully in France for years now. It's great for the parents and even better for the baby who bonds with both parents instead of just the mother. Not a bad thing in this day-and-age of teenage violence and lack of father figures. Dads get to know what motherhood is all about at long last. The only problem is in the workplace. In France the employer is not allowed to fill the vacancy except with temporary staff and they are generally reluctant to do that.
Joyce Russelot, Paris, France
What a load of rubbish, two weeks. I get 40 hours paternity leave with the police. Bearing in mind I work nine hour shifts, that means I get four days off, and having a mortgage to pay, how can I as a working parent afford £112 a week? It is always the same, if you work hard in life you get nothing back. Take the mickey and you get looked after.
Steven Sheard, Gateshead
I have been a resident of the UK for many years but I am originally from Germany where we had a year paid paternity / maternity share since the late 1980s / early 1990s. As usual Britons are celebrating recent social advances, which have been made long ago in other countries.
Daniel Zylbersztajn, London
I have worked for 30 years and haven't had children and accept that parents need time to care for their families, however, my parents are now elderly and no such consideration is shown to me. I would give all employees a period of sabbatical leave and give them the right to choose to use it for childbirth/child care/to see the world or to care for elderly or disabled relatives. Once the leave was used, any other periods of absence would be unpaid. I work with girls who have had three children in the past five years and we have hardly seen them. I need a week off to care for an elderly relative and am required to use my holidays or take unpaid leave.
Ann Humphries, Liverpool
Hey, great news. You can go to your boss, lie about your fictitious wife having had an imaginary baby sixth months ago and get six month's paid leave - just like that! No evidence required. Great! Will the government compensate the employer when his company becomes a victim of fraud through this easy-to-abuse scheme? I think not!
Steve Smith, Nottingham
I tried to use my "right" to take a day of unpaid paternity leave to look after my one-year-old daughter when my wife was ill. The attitude of my manager was that I was using the system for extra holidays and that I should use a day of my annual leave allowance. My refusal to do this led to being bullied out of my job. This was a large factory. This is the real world of paternity leave, not the fantasy that politicians delude themselves and the public that they have created. The idea of asking the same employer for six months leave made me laugh out loud. This offer will not be taken up as the fear of being victimised for doing anything but exactly what the firm thinks is best for the firm is very real. Even though I won my case for unfair dismissal at a tribunal, through the backing of my union, I have been unemployed for three years. Unfortunately you only have rights in this country until you try to use them, then you realise they are just a mirage.
Ian, South Shields
The comments we publish are not necessarily the views of the BBC but will reflect the balance of views we have received. It is helpful if contributors state if they work for any organisation relevant to an issue discussed. Readers should form their own views on whether messages published represent undeclared interests, or views prompted by a common source.