Unmarried Fathers’ Rights

In the UK, every child has a right to see both of their parents.  For couples that stay together, this is not a problem, but when parents split up, things can get a little more complicated. If both of the parents are married when the child is born, things are relatively simple but if they are not, the rules are different – as they can be between the mothers’ and fathers’ rights.

If you are an unmarried father who is looking to have contact to their child after a breakup, it is important that you know where you stand.

What rights do unmarried fathers have in the UK?

In a situation where both of the child’s parents are married, both the mother and the father have parental responsibility. If, however, parents are not married, the mother still automatically has parental responsibility but the father only has it under specific circumstances.

What is parental responsibility? 

Parental responsibility is  a legal term that describes all the decision making power a parent has for a child. These can include:

  • The care and well-being of the child
  • Representing the child in some court proceedings
  • Choosing, registering and changing the child’s name
  • Making decisions about the child’s education
  • Making decisions about the child’s religion
  • Ensuring that the child is fed and clothed
  • Making decisions related to the child’s health
  • Making decisions about where the child lives

The input of one parent with parental responsibility is equal to that of the another parent with parental responsibility..

Does an unmarried father have parental responsibility? 

An unmarried father does not automatically get parental responsibility as a married father would. However, you can acquire parental responsibility if:

  • You registered the birth of your child jointly with the mother (with your name on the birth certificate)
  • You go to a family court and get given parental responsibility. This will be through a Parental Responsibility Order or an order stipulating that the child will live with you.
  • You have a formal, written agreement with the child’s mother giving you parental responsibility.

If none of these are the case, then you do not have parental responsibility.

How do unmarried fathers get parental responsibility? 

If you are an unmarried father there are ways that you can get parental responsibility. These are:

  • You can marry the child’s mother
  • You can make a parental responsibility agreement with the child’s mother giving you parental responsibility
  • You can apply for parental responsibility by going to court.

It is, of course, preferable that you make these arrangements amicably and out of court, but sometimes the courts will need to be involved. If a parental responsibility case goes to court, there are a number of factors that would be taken into consideration, including:

  • The attachment and relationship between you and your child
  • How committed you are and have been as a father
  • Why you are applying for a parental responsibility order

Within the family court, it is important to remember that the child’s best interests will be central to any decision that is made – and whether a parental responsibility order is given or not.

If you are not a child’s biological father but are going to marry a child’s mother, you can also apply for parental responsibility through the court system.

How long can parental responsibility last?

Under normal circumstances, parental responsibility will last until the child turns 18 years old. However, there are some other situations when parental responsibility can end. These include:

  • Until an adoption order occurs
  • If a court order is made that ends parental responsibility for any reason

How does an unmarried father get a child arrangement order?

It is the case that some unmarried fathers – even if they have a parental responsibility order – do not get to see their child. Under the best circumstances, both of the parents will come to an agreement for the unmarried father to have access to their child. However, if an agreement is not possible, the unmarried father can apply for a child arrangements order.

A child arrangements order will stipulate details around who the child can live with as well as contact arrangements for the parents and the child.

A child arrangements order is applied for through the family court, and you should remember that all of the decisions are made in the best interests of the child. Under most circumstances, when it comes to who the child will be living with, the court often prefers to maintain the status quo to avoid unnecessary upheaval and distress to the child.


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