Parental rights for fathers are determined largely by whether the individual has ‘parental responsibility’. Parental responsibility is not always an automatic right for fathers, and without it, a father’s legal rights in relation a child may be limited where both parents disagree on a matter.
What is parental responsibility?
With parental responsibility, you can make decisions about the child’s upbringing and care, for example how and where the child is educated, what surname they should have or what religion they will have.
Parental rights are one aspect of the overall legal duty of parental responsibility. You also have a responsibility to safeguard the child’s welfare by protecting and maintaining them and their property.
Parental rights are not absolute and can be restricted and even removed by the courts in some circumstances.
Parental responsibility usually expires when the child reaches the age of 18, and as such, your parental rights will also expire once the child reaches the age specified.
Who has parental rights?
Anyone with parental responsibility has the right to make decisions about the child’s welfare. Birth mothers automatically have parental responsibility, however for fathers, it is based on the circumstances at the time of birth and can, therefore, be a little more complicated.
Fathers married to the child’s mother when the child was born will automatically have parental responsibility.
For children born after 1stDecember 2003, if you are named on the birth certificate, you will have parental rights over the child.
What about paternity disputes?
If there is a dispute as to the paternity of the child, any existing parental rights remain in force until it is known if the child is or is not the father’s biological child. If you don’t have parental rights, you will need to prove paternity before being able to apply to acquire them.
What parental rights do I have as a father?
As a father with parental responsibility, you have equal rights as the mother in regards to making decisions about the child and their property. Your rights include making decisions about the child’s:
- Medical treatment
Do I have a right to contact the child?
There is no legal right for you to have contact with the child; however the mother has no right to prevent you from seeing the child except where there are safeguarding concerns, or the welfare of the child is compromised from having that contact.
There is also no automatic right for you to know the child’s address if not living with you. However, you can apply to the courts to obtain this information.
The mother must also keep you updated as to the child’s wellbeing if you do not have contact with the child directly.
Can the child live with me?
Where there is no overriding court order in place, the child can live with either parent, and you can have sole, or shared residence of the child. Both parents should agree to the residence of the child; however, if agreements cannot be reached, seek legal advice on the next steps such as applying to obtain a court order.
Are my rights the same as the mother?
In short, yes. Section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989 abolished the presumption that mothers were more important than fathers, and the legal position is now that both parents are equally as important in a child’s life.
Can these rights be restricted?
There are certain situations where one parent can restrict the rights of the other, such as where the parents cannot agree, or the welfare of the child is a concern. There are certain court orders that the mother may be able to obtain that may restrict a father’s rights.
Prohibited Steps Order
A prohibited steps order is used to prevent the actions of one parent by the other. This can include situations such as wanting to take the child out of the country, relocating the child or medical treatment of the child.
Child Arrangements Order
A Child Arrangements Order (formerly known as a residence order) can be used to mandate where the child should live. Should you disagree with where the child lives and the mother obtains a residence order, this prevents you from being able to have the child live with you without getting permission from the courts first.
A Child Arrangements Order can also dictate contact arrangements with the child should both parents not agree. The order can dictate how much contact the non-resident parent should have, and can also dictate when and how that contact takes place.
Specific Issue Order
A Specific Issue Order is used to clarify a particular issue that the parents cannot agree on or dispute. This can be regarding things such as religion, education or changing a child’s name.
Non Molestation Orders
If a parent is using threatening behaviour or harassing the other, they can apply for a Non-Molestation Order which can prevent you from being near the child’s house or their school.
These legal remedies can also be utilised by you to enforce your rights as a father if your ex-partner is attempting to unfairly restrict your rights.
Can my rights be removed?
If your parental rights exist due to court-ordered parental responsibility, these rights can also be removed by the courts.
If you have parental rights by way of marriage to the mother at the time of the child’s birth, these rights cannot be removed, but can still be restricted as above.
How can I get parental responsibility?
If you don’t have parental responsibility, you will not have the parental rights that those with parental responsibility have and will be unable to enforce those rights should a dispute arise.
There are certain steps you can take to obtain parental rights. You will either need permission from those with parental responsibility (usually the mother) or apply for permission from the court if this isn’t possible.
If the mother agrees to the father having parental rights, you can complete a Parental Responsibility Agreement using Form C(PRA1)..
If you can’t agree, you will need to apply to the family court to obtain a Parental Responsibility Order.
Parental rights for fathers is a complex and developing area, but if you are a father without parental responsibility, your rights in relation to your child will be limited.
It is imperative therefore if you would like to enforce your parental rights to seek the help of a qualified solicitor to ascertain your legal position. This ensures that any potentially costly and expensive legal proceedings are undertaken in the most efficient and effective way possible.