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Unmarried fathers rights

More than one in three children are now born outside marriage. This can affect who has legal rights over the child and many unmarried fathers are unsure where they stand.

Contact with your child

The law generally accepts that it is in the interests of children to have regular contact with both parents.

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In many cases unmarried partners have informal agreements for contact to take place between the father and the child. Unfortunately, in some cases one parent will try and use child contact as a bargaining chip, for example in cases of non payment of maintenance.

These are two separate issues and contact with a child will not be dependent upon payments of maintenance. It is the child’s right to have a relationship with both of its parents regardless of finances.

Your solicitor will help you to work out the most suitable arrangements for child contact which can include visits to the child at home, taking the child to the other parents home, activity based contact, overnight stays and holidays.

Generally, arrangements can be worked out by a process of negotiation between the parents. If you are not able to reach a compromise then the courts can impose a contact order which specifies exactly when the child will spend time with the non-resident parent.

Parental responsibility

Being the biological father of a child does not mean that you have an automatic right in law to parental responsibility. Likewise, even though you may be registered as the father on your child’s birth certificate, this does not always mean that you have automatic parental responsibility.

If you are unmarried and separate from the child’s mother and you do not have parental responsibility, then you do not have a legal say in the child’s upbringing.

What is parental responsibility?

This is a legal phrase used to define who has the rights and obligations in making decisions which affect the child’s life. Parental responsibility includes the following legal rights and responsibilities:

  • Providing a home for the child
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  • Having contact with and living with the child
  • Protecting and maintaining the child
  • Disciplining the child
  • Choosing and providing for the child’s education
  • Choosing the child’s religion
  • Agreeing on the child’s health and medical care
  • Consenting to medical treatment for the child
  • Accessing the child’s medical and educational records
  • Naming the child
  • Responsibility for the child’s property
  • Allowing confidential information about the child to be disclosed

Who has parental responsibility?

Mothers automatically have parental responsibility. If the parents are married at the time of the child’s birth then the father has automatic parental responsibility. For unmarried fathers the rules are more complicated.

You do have parental responsibility if:

  • You are the father of a child born after 1st December 2003 and your name is on the birth certificate.

You do not have parental responsibility if:

  • You are the father of a child born before 1st December 2003 and are not married to the child’s mother.
  • You are the unmarried father of a child born after 1st December 2003 and you are not named on the child’s birth certificate.

Applying for parental responsibility

There are a number of ways of getting PR. These are:

  • Entering into a voluntary parental responsibility agreement with the mother
  • Marrying the mother
  • Applying to the court to obtain a parental responsibility order
  • Obtaining a residence order
  • Being appointed as the child's guardian
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To apply to the court for a PR order, a father needs to show a number of things:

  • The application is being made in the interests of the child's welfare
  • A degree of commitment to the child exists
  • A degree of attachment between the child and father exists
  • The father's reason for applying for the order is genuine and well meaning

Also, if PR is granted then it has to be exercised jointly with the mother of the child.

Our experienced family solicitors have dealt with many cases involving obtaining parental responsibility for unmarried fathers. Contact us for a consultation.

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Our team of family solicitors comprises Resolution Accredited Specialists, Collaboratively trained lawyers and members of the Law Society's Children Panel.

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