Rights and Responsibilities of Unmarried Fathers

It is common for unmarried fathers to not be fully aware of their responsibilities and their legal rights towards their children, particularly when a separation has occurred.

We can help you understand exactly where you stand and the legal rights that you have with the aim of establishing contact which is in the best interest of your children.

In England, the law commonly accepts that it is in the best interests of a child to have frequent contact with both parents.

Contact arrangements:

Contact arrangements can take many forms including:

  • Telephone contact in between visits;
  • Regular, direct face to face contact including overnight stays and weekend stays;
  • The ability to write letters, cards and send presents at regular intervals;
  • Extended visits at school holidays;
  • The ability to take the children away for a week or two weeks during the long school holiday periods.

In some cases ex-partners have their own informal arrangements for contact to take place between the father and the child. These arrangements are often the best way of dealing with matters and keeping contact amicable. However, it is not unusual for arrangements like this to fall apart if one parent uses child contact as a bargaining chip. E.g. in cases where payment of maintenance is an issue.

When it comes to finances the financial maintenance and contact with your children are two separate legal issues. Child contact is not reliant upon payments of maintenance. It is the child’s right to have a relationship with both of their parents irrespective of finances.

It must be noted that it is the responsibility of all parents to provide financial support to their children, regardless of whether they have contact with them.

Our experienced family solicitors can help you to work out the most suitable arrangements for contact with your children.

Please see our page on Child Living Arrangements for more information.

Parental Responsibility:

Some fathers may not automatically have parental responsibility, even if they are in a relationship with the mother and are the biological father. However, it is possible to obtain parental responsibility.

What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility is a legal saying that describes who has the rights and responsibilities in making decisions that affect a child’s life. Parental responsibility includes the following legal rights and responsibilities:

  • Having contact with the child;
  • Naming the child;
  • Choosing the child’s education;
  • Protecting and maintaining the child;
  • Providing a safe home for the child;
  • Agreeing on the child’s health and medical care;
  • Choosing which religion the child is brought up in;
  • Disciplining the child.

Who has parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility is automatically given to the birth-mother of the child. Similarly, if the parents are married at the time of the child’s birth then the father also has parental responsibility.

When it comes to unmarried fathers they only have parental responsibility if their child was born after 1st December 2003 and if they are named on the birth certificate. If your child was born before 1st December 2003, you do not have parental responsibility, even if you are named on the birth certificate.

How to obtain parental responsibility

If you do not have parental responsibility, we can help you to obtain it. It can be gained by one of the following methods:

  • Agreeing with the mother and signing a written parental responsibility agreement;
  • Obtaining a ‘living with’ order, provided that the child lives with you;
  • Obtaining a parental responsibility order from the courts;
  • Marrying the mother;
  • Being appointed as the child’s guardian.

If you would like to apply for parental responsibility or need advice on contact arrangements with your children, please contact our specialist family law team on 0161 475 7676 or via our contact form.