Fathers and Parental Rights

News Article

Mothers automatically have parental responsibility which is defined within the Children Act 1989 as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.” In practice parental responsibility involves making decisions in relation to a child’s life from everyday decisions to the more major decision such as choosing a school, authorising medical treatment and deciding on religious faith. Most fathers would want to be involved in such decisions and as such it is important that fathers ensure that they have parental responsibility.

The position of fathers has historically been different to mothers. If the child’s parents are married the father will automatically have parental responsibility. Until 1st December 2003 if the child’s father was not married to the mother he would not automatically have parental responsibility. In order to obtain it the father would have to either enter into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother or apply to the court for an order.

For parents in a stable relationship, parental responsibility may not be an issue. However, if the parties separate problems can arise for example the mother could change the child’s name without reference to the father or take the child abroad.

The Adoption and Children Act 2002 changed the law from 1st December 2003. This means that for children born after that date or for births registered after that date, providing the unmarried father is named on the child’s birth certificate he will now automatically acquire parental rights without the need for court intervention. The change in the law is not retrospective and so for father’s named on a birth certificate that was registered prior to 1st December 2003 they will not gain parental responsibility as a result of this change in the law. However, such fathers can now apply under S.10A of the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 for the birth to be re-registered so that his name goes onto the certificate. On that re-registration the father would automatically gain parental responsibility.