47.6% of children born in the UK in 2016 were born outside marriage or civil partnership (Office for National Statistics statistical bulletin 19th July 2017), yet many unmarried parents do not understand the implication that this has on their legal relationship with their child or their financial obligations.
Today we will consider unmarried parents’ legal relationship with their children and tomorrow we will move on to consider the financial obligations.
Your relationship with your child
Who has Parental Responsibility?
For most parents, it is important that they have parental responsibility for their child. If you hold parental responsibility for a child you have a responsibility for that child’s wellbeing. In order to fulfil this responsibility, you have the right to make legal decisions for that child, including decisions relating to their education, religion, medical treatment and name. So, for unmarried couples with children, do both parents always have parental responsibility? Here are the facts:
- The birth mother will always have parental responsibility for a child.
- A married father will automatically have parental responsibility for a child
- An unmarried father does not automatically have parental responsibility
- When does an unmarried father have parental responsibility for a child?
- In the following circumstances: –
- From 1st December 2003, if he jointly registered the birth with the mother and is named on the birth certificate;
- If he has entered into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother;
- If the court grants him a parental responsibility order.
The best thing to do if you want to ensure that you have parental responsibility for your child is to register the birth with the mother. It is generally accepted that it is better for a child’s long term identity and emotional health for both parents to be named on their birth certificate.
It is of note that when parents are married, either parent can register the birth without the other present. In order for a mother to include a father’s details on the birth certificate when he is not present at the registration, or for an unmarried father to register the birth without the mother present, the parent who is not present at the registration must make a statutory declaration.
Does an unmarried father have the same rights as a married father after separation?
The short answer is, yes. If the parents cannot agree arrangements for the child, an unmarried father can make an application to the court for a child arrangements in the same way that a married father can. If an unmarried father does not have parental responsibility, an application should also be made for a parental responsibility order.
You should be aware that when a father does not have parental responsibility, the mother does not have to consult with him when making decisions for a child or when removing the child from the jurisdiction (taking them outside England and Wales, whether on a temporary or permanent basis). If you are unsure as to whether you have parental responsibility for your child it is vital that you seek specialist family law advice and, if necessary, take steps to obtain parental responsibility.
Tomorrow we’ll publish part two of this blog on unmarried parents’ legal rights and look at the issue of finances.