10 March 2020

Without marriage, do fathers have rights?

Unlike a married father, an unmarried father does not automatically obtain parental responsibility for their child. Parental responsibility (PR) is a legal right that enables a parent to make day-to-day decisions on behalf of their child. Examples of this are: agreeing to the child’s medical treatment and choosing and providing for the child’s education.

Married fathers can obtain automatic PR simply by being married to the biological mother at the time of a child’s birth. However, for unmarried fathers, it is not so straightforward. It is therefore important that unmarried fathers understand their legal position so they are able to secure their rights.

There are three ways the unmarried father can obtain PR and exercise his legal rights over his child. They include:

Joint registration: usually, when couples are together, joint registration is obtained by the mother putting the name of the father on the birth certificate at the time of the child’s birth or at a later date.

A parental responsibility agreement: this involves the mother filling out a document to confer parental responsibility on the unmarried father, a favourable choice in amiable circumstances which both parents have to agree to.

A court order: effectively requesting the court to make a decision on what is in the best interests of the child. A common way of obtaining PR if there is disagreement between the parties.

If an unmarried father wishes to have a say in the treatment of his child then exercising one of the options above is imperative.

Courts are particularly keen to provide unmarried fathers with PR, providing they are willing and able to prove they are involved in their child’s life. This principle has been upheld in recent cases where the commitment of unmarried fathers towards their children, even in a short period of time, was enough to warrant a parental responsibility order from the court.

Despite the Children Act 1989 stating that it is always to be presumed that both parents’ involvement will further the welfare of the child, there can be sufficiently complicated cases that make obtaining PR a necessity. An example of this is if a mother wishes to take the child(ren) out of the country without the father’s consent. This situation can be prevented by the father with an application for PR through a court order.

This article aims to supply general information, but it is not intended to constitute advice. Every effort is made to ensure that the law referred to is correct at the date of publication and to avoid any statement which may mislead. However no duty of care is assumed to any person and no liability is accepted for any omission or inaccuracy. Always seek our specific advice.

Hayes + Storr can advise unmarried fathers and step-parents on how to obtain parental responsibility. For more information call 01328 863231 and ask for Family Services.