Unmarried fathers – do you have parental responsibility?

21st May 2014

As an unmarried father, you may be surprised to learn that you may not automatically have parental responsibility for your children. Parental responsibility gives you the legal authority to be involved in making decisions about the health, welfare and education of your children, including giving consent for medical treatment.

Currently, the law states that if a child’s parents are married when their child is born, both of them automatically have parental responsibility.

If the parents are not married when a child is born, only the mother automatically has parental responsibility. The father can acquire it in one of the following ways: 

  • marrying the mother of the child;
  • entering into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother of the child;
  • applying to court for an order giving him parental responsibility;
  • registering as the child’s father on the birth certificate – if the child was born on or after 1 December 2003; or
  • becoming the child’s guardian. 

As a father you can apply to the court for a parental responsibility order or obtain parental responsibility upon the court making a residence order. However, according to family lawyer Susan Davies of Ansons Solicitors in Lichfield, the introduction of the Children and Families Act 2014 has provided an additional way that a father may acquire parental responsibility through the courts.

The new act has replaced residence and contact orders with child arrangement orders. Child arrangement orders regulate the arrangements relating to whom a child is to live, and when a child is to spend time or otherwise have contact with any other person.

Under the new act, if you are named in a court order as a person with whom the child is to live, and you would not otherwise have parental responsibility for the child, the court must also make an order giving you parental responsibility. This has replaced the automatic parental responsibility order granted with a residence order.

Furthermore, if the court makes an order that the child should spend time with their father, the court must decide whether it would be appropriate for that father to have parental responsibility. If the court considers that it would be appropriate they must make that order.

For further information on Child arrangement orders and parental responsibility, please contact Susan Davies in the family team, on 01543 267 091 or email Ansons Solicitors has offices in Cannock and Lichfield, Staffordshire.