New fathers will be able to share maternity leave and pay with mothers under new laws set to be announced by David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

Under the new plans, fathers will be able to take time off work and claim state benefits throughout most of the first year of their baby’s life – if the mother returns to employment. However, it is believed that the joint allowance will be delayed until October 2015 following a disagreement in Cabinet over the impact on business.

Fathers are entitled to two weeks of paternity leave and mothers can transfer their leave to their partners after the first six months under the current system. However it is understood that under the ‘flexible parental leave’ mothers will only be required to take the first fortnight of leave after giving birth, for health reasons, after which fathers can take the paid time off work. Mothers will still receive the assistance automatically though, unless they apply to transfer it to their partners.

A government source said:

“This has taken a long time to develop as the system has to be robust enough to prevent fraud, with both parents claiming.

“It was decided to keep the current default system of assistance being given to women. There are also other safeguards to prevent vulnerable mothers, or those in families which do not function well, from losing their entitlements. Absent fathers will not benefit.”

One Conservative minister has described the joint parental allowance as a “crazy” proposal in the current economic environment, saying:

“The last thing businesses, particularly small businesses, should be saddled with at the moment is yet another round of regulation and uncertainty. They should just be left to get on with building their companies and helping get the economy going.”