The law upholds the notion that both the mother and father have joint responsibilities towards their children and their child has a right to have an on-going, meaningful relationship with both of their parents. Both parents are responsible for providing for the child’s wellbeing and to meet every child’s needs: emotionally, physically, psychologically, and financially. It is a joint responsibility of both parents to ensure that all child’s needs are met so that their child grows up being given the best opportunity in life to thrive and meet their potential.
The law defines parental responsibility as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and the child’s property”. It gives a parent responsibility for taking important decisions in the child’s life in relation to issues such as:
Which schools your child attends
Health and medical treatment
Holidays abroad and trips away with non-family members
Naming and changing a child’s name
It also gives a parent responsibility in making day-to-day decisions, such as where the child can go, with who and what they might eat.
Parental responsibility for married fathers in the UK
All fathers in England and Wales who are either married to their child’s mother or have their name on their child’s birth certificate automatically have parental responsibility. This means that you do not need to apply to the Courts for additional rights as they are automatically granted as the child's legal parent.
Parental responsibility for unmarried fathers in the UK
If you are not married to your child’s mother, or your name is not on the birth certificate you will not have parental responsibility automatically. You can apply to the Courts for parental responsibility or come to an agreement and enter into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother.
Before granting parental responsibility, the court will consider what is in the best interests of the child. They will look at things like the level of commitment you have demonstrated as a father so far, the attachment you have with your child and your reasons for applying for an order.
Who can apply for a parental responsibility agreement?
A parental responsibility agreement would be appropriate for:
an unmarried father whose name is not on the birth certificate,
a father who marries and wants parental responsibility for a new partner’s child,
a parent in a same sex relationship where the other parent already has a child or gives birth during the relationship (assuming the couple are not civil partners at the time of the child’s birth).
What rights does a father have to see his child?
A father has just as much right to have contact with his children as the mother. When parents separate, they reach a mutual assent on co-parenting together. If you would like to play a greater role in the care of your children and you cannot reach an agreement with the mother of your child, there are steps you can take.
Many parents who separate arrange between them with whom their children will live and when the children will see the other parent. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to reach a compromise, especially when emotions are running high in the breakdown of a relationship.
If you cannot decide and have to go to court to ask a Judge to decide, remember that the court’s will consider what is in your child’s best interests, not necessarily what either of you as parents want. More often than not, for a child to maintain a good, close and loving relationship with both of his parents is in his or her best interests and a court will make orders to assure that happens.
It is the child’s right to see their father and have a continuing relationship with the parent that they don’t live with every day and to be encouraged by the parent they live with to see the other parent and enjoy time with them.
Can a mother stop the father from seeing the child?
A mother cannot stop a father from seeing the child unless there are some special circumstances. Neither parent has the right to restrict the other from seeing their child.
In order to restrict a father’s access to a child the mother must prove to the court that there is a risk to the welfare of a child. In such circumstances the mother may restrict access or decide on how:
How long you can see the child
When you can see the child
Where you see the child
Whether you can see the child at all
A mother may restrict access if there are any concerns surrounding the father which relate to drugs, alcohol, criminal behaviour or abuse
Child Arrangements Orders
If agreement cannot be reached through negotiation a father can make an application to the Courts for a child arrangements order. This will set out where the child will live and when they will spend time with the other parent.
It’s not a forgone conclusion that children live with their mothers and fathers are denied the ability to spend time with their children. There are regularly cases where arrangements are changed quite dramatically meaning that children spend more time with dad or even live most of the week with their father. Of course, this only happens if it’s in the best interest of the child and this has to be proven.
Applying to the Courts for parental responsibility
As a father you can apply to the court for parental responsibility. The court will consider:
How committed you are as a father
The attachment between you and your child
Your reasons for applying for the order
Based on what the judge believes to be in the child's best interests they will either accept or grant your application for parental responsibility.
If you've been part of a couple where the children are yours and you don't have parental responsibility, you can still apply to court for certain types of orders, mostly Contact Orders to see the children, but even for a Residence Order to have the children live with you (if granted, you'll then have parental responsibility).
Note that if your former partner has a Residence Order, she can take your children abroad for up to a month without your consent. However, if the trip is longer, or she plans on moving abroad with the children, she will need the consent of both you and anyone else who has parental responsibility for the children. However, if you wish to take your children abroad for a holiday, it's a tougher issue, and legally you're advised to have her agreement first. (Taking a child abroad without the mother's consent can be deemed as abduction in the eyes of the law.
When does parental responsibility end?
Parental responsibility to your children ends when they turn 18 and become legal adults. However, if they are over 16 and married, it ends with the marriage. If you’ve obtained parental responsibility through a residence order, though, and the residence order changes, you don’t lose parental responsibility.
Speak to a family law solicitor
Our experienced team of family law solicitors can help you understand your parental rights in the context of UK law. We deal with sensitive and complex cases and help our clients reach the most suitable outcomes for their family. Our friendly legal experts will explain your rights to you at every stage and aim to simplify the process as much as possible. We will always strive to ensure that your case is dealt with in the most efficient way possible to reduce stress and complications for you and your family.
Get in touch with our friendly team today to find out how we can help.