Cohabitation Awareness Week 2017

 

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.

41 responses to “Unmarried parents – legal rights  (Part one)

  1. Needed a bit of help the father to my son his saying he is not bringing him back to me don’t know Wat I can do as we have nothing in play with custody needing asvise

    1. Thank you for your comment Samantha. Regardless of whether you have a formal order in place, if your son usually lives with you and you receive child benefit for him then you have the presumption of residence. If your son’s father will not return him then you should take urgent legal advice about making an application for a specific issue order for your son to be returned to your care and a child arrangements order formalising the time he spends with each parent.

  2. Hi I have got job offer abroad and want to move there with my son, but my sons father whom I am not married to but followed me to register the birthcertificate is on the birthcertificate, and he doesnt want to move abroad with us, what is my options at this, how big is the chances for the mother to gain sole custody as an unmarried mother of the child

    1. Thanks for your comment Delilah. You and your son’s father share parental for your son, so neither of you should remove your son from the jurisdiction of England and Wales without the other’s permission (whether permanently or for a holiday). If you wish to move abroad with your son and his father does not agree, you should make an application at court for permission to remove him from the jurisdiction. The court will make the decision based on what it deems is in the best interests of your son and will need to balance any benefits of the move for your son against the impact it will have on his relationship with his father. You will have to put forward a detailed proposal showing how the move will impact on your son, including how you propose to maintain his relationship with his father. I strongly recommend that you take specialist advice from a Resolution family lawyer about your situation.

  3. Hi, I had a baby (born prematurely) with my boyfriend at the time. We stayed in hospital for a long time for my baby to get better but relationship with my boyfriend did not last. I have two other small children. Since coming home, my boyfriend has decided to keep my baby in his house and prevents me from seeing him. For the past 5 months I’ve only seen the baby few times. This is causing me to be depressed and I’m not getting any great help from social services. I want to make application to court for custody. I’m on benefits and want to know what I can do and apply for. Thank you

    1. Hi Yvonne, I am sorry to hear that you are having such a difficult time. I encourage to you seek advice from a specialist lawyer as soon as possible. Unfortunately, there is not usually legal aid available for family cases but there is an exception if you are a victim of domestic abuse. Your boyfriend’s behaviour sounds controlling and I wonder whether this was a characteristic of your relationship. If so, you should explore whether you can produce the evidence required to qualify for legal aid. https://www.gov.uk/legal-aid/domestic-abuse-or-violence

  4. Hi, I am an unmarried mother with the father of my child on the birth certificate so I know he has parental responsibility. I can prove physical domestic violence as he was arrested 3 years ago for assaulting me. I decided to give a chance and are still together. However the verbal and emotional abuse continues and I am now in therapy. This has given me the courage to want to leave and I have told him. He will not agree to our daughter living with me. I can also prove inappropriate behaviour which gives me further cause for concern. All of which was visable on our daughters iPad. I feel trapped, can I make arrangements for alternative accommodation for me and my daughter and leave?

    1. Hi Lisa, thanks for your comment. Generally, you should consult with your daughters father before changing her residence and make an application to court if agreement can’t be reached between you. However, if your daughter’s father poses a risk to either of you this may not be appropriate and you may need to take urgent action without informing him first. I would need a lot more information about you and your family before I could properly assess the current risk to you and daughter and advise you as to an appropriate course of action. I urge you to get in touch with a specialist family lawyer so that you can get the right advice for your situation as soon as possible. I don’t know what your financial position is, but if you are financially eligible you may be access legal aid as a victim of domestic abuse.

  5. Hi i’m a male in an emotional abusive relationship with the partner of my 2 young children.
    She is continually threatening to kick me out of our family home. i am now fighting back( not physically) and telling her i’m leaving as i don’t want my kids to grow up in this toxic environment. She now threatens me with not ever being able to see my kids again and i will only be able to see them through a contact centre.
    We are not married however my name is on their birth certificate. I worry she is right, so i continue to stay in a loveless and abusive relationship as i will sedona anything to be with my children can you advice me if she is correct and i would only have access to my children through a contact centre.

    1. Hi Jim, thank you for your comment and I am sorry to hear you are having such a difficult time. If you were to decide to end your relationship and it was not possible to agree suitable arrangements for the children to spend time with you, then you should make an application to the court. The presumption is that it is in a child’s best interests to have a relationship with both parents. Contact centres are often used for interim arrangements if one parent is alleging that the other parent is a risk to a child. However, at a final hearing (when the court will consider the evidence relating to any allegations and find that the allegations are true or untrue) a final order for contact at a contact centre would only be made if the court felt that the parent in question poses a risk to the child.
      It is important to remember that there can be a long term emotional impact on children if they are exposed to high levels of conflict or domestic abuse between their parents. I urge you to seek some support so that you can make the best decisions for you and your family. Men’s advice line – http://www.mensadviceline.org.uk/ ManKind Initiative – https://www.mankind.org.uk/ If I can assist further please do not hesitate to contact me.

  6. Just a question,with family law? Dose the father have right if his name is on the birth certificate we’re not married and the child dose not have his surname.
    Dose he still have the same right as the mother?

    1. Thank you for your comment. All mother’s automatically have parental responsibility for their children. If you are not married and your child’s father is not named on his birth certificate he does not automatically have parental responsibility for your child. This means that you do not have an obligation to consult him on issues relating to your child’s welfare. He is however your child’s legal parent.

  7. quick question.
    both my partner and i share parental responsibility but i worry for the safty of my twins when i leave them with him!, he is a good dad on paper he provides for them but there have been time where iv seen him ignore, shout and even be some what nasty to them if they cry or wont be quiet! he is also verbally abusive to me always threaten to hit or take the girls away from me. I’m wanting to leave the relationship and have told him this but he keeps making me feel guilty for “splitting up the family” and using him for the things he does for us, we all live with my parents at the moment and when I tell him to leave he just don’t go or as I said before he mentally bullies me and telling me I will never see my baby’s again!
    how would I go about getting full or sole custody or actually getting him to leave ?

    1. Thanks for your comment Kirsty. I am sorry to hear about your situation. If you want to end the relationship there is support available to you, I suggest that you contact Women’s Aid in the first instance. It is also sensible to speak to a specialist family lawyer who is a member of Resolution. You mention that you are all living with your parents at the moment. If the property is owned or rented by your parents (rather than by you and your partner) then it is unlikely he has any right of residence. Would your parents support you in asking him to leave the property?

  8. My partners x partner is taking him to court not to see his son or let him back in Scotland from England.
    He pays weekly payments always has done. Looks after him through the holidays when she working .goes down and stays when she’s away with work .She sends him of to his uncles when she has no childcare .my partner was charged with domestic towards her but she was drunk and was always abusing him physical and verbaly and he wouldn’t hurt a fly he is such a loving person and is totally at his wits end with the stress and it’s causing problems with us .please advise

    1. Thanks for your comment Freya. Your partner’s situation sounds complex and it is not possible for us to provide advice without having a meeting with him in order to properly understand the situation. I suggest that your partner seeks advice from a specialist family lawyer who is a member of Resolution.

  9. Hi im having a baby and im not with the father and havnt been for awhile we was seeing each other for a short while until i found out i was pregnant he asked me to be his girlfriend but it only lasted a week when baby is born i want the baby to have my last name not his however if i put the father on the birth certificate can he then say then change the babys surname?

    1. Thanks for your comment Jennifer. You can register your child’s birth on your own without the father and give the child your surname. Whilst the father will be your child’s legal parent, this means he won’t have parental responsibility for your child.

      You should be aware that the father could apply for a declaration or parentage (which would add him to the birth certificate) or make an application for parental responsibility, for a child arrangements order to spend time with the child or for a specific issue order to change the child’s name. His chances of success in any application would depend on the circumstances at the time.

  10. I am unmarried and my son’s father is not on his birth certificate. We are not together for over a year. My son turned 1 today. Is there a time limit that the father has to be put on the birth certificate? He has known that my son is his for over a year but has done nothing about it which I’m grateful. My problem is every time he wants to see me and I say no, he threatens to go to court and put his name on the certificate. Do I need to deal with this for 18 yrs or is there a time limit he has?

    1. Thanks for your comment Tina. There is no time limit on your child’s father applying for a declaration of parentage at any time, which would update your son’s birth certificate. He can also make an application for a child arrangements order in respect of your son or for parental responsibility. You may wish to consider attending mediation.

  11. Hi, Im a father and have parental responsibility of my child as per birth certificate. My partner is the main bread winner works 5/6 days each week.
    I stay at home actively looking for work and going for interviews. I also take care of the child from the moment my partner leaves for work to when she comes back.
    My partner constantly threatens me to leave the rented house (iam not on the rental agreement) as i am not contributing enough to the bills without considering my daily raising child cleaning the house etc.
    Have i got some rights? Should i be recognise dor what i do?
    N

    1. Thank you for your comment. If you are not on the tenancy agreement and are not married, it is unlikely that you have any right to live at the property. You rightly identify that you have parental responsibility for your child as you are named on the birth certificate, so you and your partner have equal rights and responsibilities in respect of your child. A specialist family lawyer will be able to advise you and help you make the right decisions for your particular circumstances.

  12. Hi,
    My 10 year old son has lived with his father during the week for the last 2 years and he comes and stays with me every weekend, give or take a few that he may spend with his dad. Prior to that, he lived with me during the week and stayed with his dad at weekends.
    His father and I are unmarried and have generally had a good relationship when co-parenting our son.
    However when we do occasionally not get on, we have extremely explosive arguments where he constantly threatens to not let me see my son.
    Since he has a much larger income than I do, I worry that he legally challenge my access to my son and not let me see him.
    Where do I stand? Any help would be appreciated. Thanks

    1. Thank you for your comment Harriet. It is positive that you and your son’s father generally have a positive co-parenting relationship, but I am sorry to hear that when you don’t get on your son’s father threatens to stop you seeing him. As a preventative measure, I would encourage you both to meet with a family consultant to discuss how you can best deal with conflict when it occurs in your co-parenting relationship. If your son’s father ever did obstruct your son spending time with you, I would recommend trying to resolve the issue in mediation. If this isn’t possible then you would need to issue an application for a child arrangements order at court.

  13. Hi, my daughters father has brought up several small issues trying to say I’m not looking after her correctly and challenges me on a lot of things. She resides with me since he walk out when she was one years old. Eventually I got him to agree to regular contact and a schedule to keep consistent. He previously had an issue with drugs but I have no idea if he is involved now. He has a high paid job and I do not. Since I met met my partner and had another baby things have changed.. the challenge of my parenting etc… Then he met his partner and he now wants to have her more than he does which I don’t agree too. He wasn’t really interested the first few years of her life and now the party life style has died down he wants more control and contact. He also tries to say her health is suffering, I’ve been to the GP who said she is healthy. I believe he was emotionally abusive when we were together and my anxiety spirals when having to deal with him. Where do I stand? I’m scared he is going to try and fight for custody and I can’t afford a solicitor. Please help

    1. If you or your daughter’s father do not believe that the current arrangements for your daughter are in her best interests, either of you can make an application for a child arrangements order. The court would then decide what arrangements are in your daughters best interests and can make an order that she lives with one parent and spends time with the other, or that she lives with both parents at defined times. Most people would like to be represented within proceedings, but unfortunately for financial reasons many parents have no option but to act as a litigant in person and manage the litigation without legal representation. There is little legal aid available for family cases; to be eligible you must be on a low income and able to prove that you are a victim of domestic abuse perpetrated by the other party. I encourage you to consider mediation, to try to resolve this issue between you for your daughter’s sake. You can find an accredited mediator in your area here.

  14. hi
    i am father of my daughter. we have done Islamic marriage and split up. now i want to take my daughter responsibilities but my partner haven’t register me on birth certificate. and she want to take daughter to abroad. whats the legal aid for me.

    1. Hi Basit. This is a complex issue and you should seek urgent advice from a specialist family solicitor. Unfortunately, legal aid is not available in family cases unless you are a victim of domestic abuse perpetrated by the other party. You can find the eligibility requirements here.

  15. If the father doesn’t turn up for the birth certificate signing and has been very unsupportive through the pregnancy and we aren’t together anymore…
    I know he can apply for parental rights. I obviously believe he isn’t capable to look after the child. Could I disagree with his application to the court? Could I stop him getting rights/custody?

    1. Thank you for your comment Emily. I am sorry to hear that you have not felt supported by your child’s father. As father, he can make an application at court in relation to your child, for example for parental responsibility and/or a child arrangements order for the child to spend time with him. If you can’t reach an agreement, the court will make the order that it believes is in your child’s best interests having considered the evidence. I suggest that you seek advice in relation to your particular circumstances from a specialist family lawyer.

  16. My ex partner and I have a 3 month old baby, he’s not on the birth certificate but I allow him to have contact every week, he’s threatened me with court to get parental responsibility because I call all the shots and I don’t want his other children and family coming to see him (not yet) would the courts give him shared responsibility even though I allow contact every week? And would they order me to allow my baby to have contact with his other kids and family?

    1. Thank you for your comment Kelly. The general principle is that it is in your child’s best interests to have a relationship with both parents, unless there is evidence that this would place a child at risk. The court will generally grant a father parental responsibility if he does not already have it. This gives the father the right to be consulted about decisions relating to the child’s health, education and welfare. The amount of time that a court orders a child should spend with a parent will depend on the individual circumstances of the case. I recommend that you seek advice from a specialist family lawyer about your situation.

  17. I need some assistance. The father of my daughter is on the birth certificate (daughter is three) and I have done a 60/40 split with him. The problem is he is emotionally abusive and Im having trouble with evidence proving that. Example, I contact child support and when he got the letter he went crazy on the figure they stated (he earns a lot of money). Hes bombarding me with texts saying he will lose his house and be bankrupt because of me. I left his house after 6 years in a relationship with nothing (I worked hard on the family home and in rented accommodation and shared everything bought for our daughter. Hes threatening to take me to court and how he wants 50/50 of our daughter but its so he doesn’t have to pay anything. I’m worried he will get 50/50 for the wrong reasons and this will impact our daughter, shes only little.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Harriet. If your partner does issue an application it would be for a child arrangements order. This is an order which specifies who a child is to live with and who they are to spend time, and when. The court would make the decision based on what they believe is in your child’s best interests. You should seek advice about your particular circumstances from a Resolution specialist family solicitor.

  18. The father of my two daughters(8&3) is proposing for us to go to court for custody.we are no longer together,never married and his name is not even on their birth certificate.so m afraid he might win full custody as I hav already moved on living with onother man.

    1. Thanks for your comment Rinah. If your child’s father made an application at court it would be for a child arrangements order. This is an order that specifies who a child lives with or spends time with, and when. As your child’s father is not on the birth certificate he does not have parental responsibility, but it does not sound like his paternity is in dispute so he is still a legal parent and entitled to make an application. The court will make a decision based on what is in the best interests of the children. You should seek advice from a specialist family solicitor about your specific circumstances.

  19. Hi im not married with father of my child and hes not in his Birthcertficat so do i have right to see his family and his house for my child safry because he try to take my son out with me and i cant trust him as i really dont know about him because we had very short relationship between us

    1. Thank you for your comment Mana. As your child’s father is not on his birth certificate he does not have parental responsibility for your child. He is however your child’s legal parent. It is generally considered important for children to have a relationship with both parents and to know their extended families, so long as it is safe for the child. I do not know enough about your situation to comment in this regard. If you and your child’s father cannot agree arrangements for him to spend time with your child, he has the right to make an application for a child arrangements order and/or a parental responsibility order. I recommend that you seek independent legal advice about your particular circumstances.

    2. Thank you for your comment. As your child’s father is not on the birth certificate he does not automatically have parental responsibility. He is however your child’s legal parent. The general principle is that it is in your child’s best interests to have a relationship with both parents, unless there is evidence that this would place a child at risk. You say that you don’t know your child’s father well as it was a short relationship. I suggest that you meet with a family consultant or a mediator with your child’s father to try to establish trust between you so that your child can have both parents in their life moving forwards.

  20. Hi me and my partner have split up and she is now saying she is gunna take my son to another part of the country can I stop that I have proof that the whole way through the relationship she was cheating and was finding reasons to end it so she could get with the new guy wich is what she has done now straight after we ended what can o do to make sure my son is not taken too far away

    1. Thank you for your comment Kieran. I would encourage you and your child’s mother to discuss this issue in mediation. You do not say in your comment whether you are named on your child’s birth certificate; if so you have parental responsibility for your child and your child’s mother should consult with you about decisions such as changing your child’s school or doctors surgery. If you and your child’s mother cannot reach a consensus in mediation, you should discuss your options with a specialist family lawyer.

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