Your rights as unmarried fathers
1. WHAT IS PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY AND DO I HAVE IT?
When a baby is born, his or her mother automatically gets Parental Responsibility (PR). PR is a legal term which means 'all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority' that go with being a parent. It is a duty to care for and protect a child.
As a dad, you automatically get PR if:
- You are married to the baby's mother
- Your baby was born after December 1st 2003 (when a new law was introduced), and you are named as his or her father on the birth certificate.
If you fall into one of those categories, then you won't need to worry about applying for PR. If your situation is different, or you want further information about PR, read on to find out more.
2. WHY DO I NEED PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY?
You don't need PR for your day-to-day role as a dad. Most of the time you wouldn't even think about it - you and your partner probably make the small, everyday decisions together about how your child is brought up. However, PR does give you the legal right to be consulted about the big decisions in your child's life. And that stands until he or she reaches the age of 18. Among other things, PR allows you to:
- give consent to medical treatment for a child
- choose which school he or she goes to
- apply for a passport for him or her
- choose his or her religious upbringing
- decide where he or she will live
- consent to his or her marriage if he or she wants to marry before turning 18
- look after a property on his or her behalf
For many families, PR simply confirms, by law, the way they view themselves - as a secure unit. In tragic circumstances, it can be a very important thing to have. If the child's mother were to die, for example, having PR would make you the obvious person to look after the child and be the legal parent and guardian. Although the court would almost certainly favour you in this situation, it is not guaranteed. Sometimes other relatives apply for PR, and things can get complicated.
If you and your partner are living together as if you were married, sharing PR probably seems like the right and natural thing to do.
3. I HAVENT GOT PR AT THE MOMENT. HOW DO I GET IT?
If you are the child's natural father, PR can be obtained by:
- marrying his or her mother
- making a PR agreement with his or her mother
- re-registering his or her birth - ensuring that you are named as the father on the birth certificate
- applying to the court for an order (if the child's mother has refused to make an agreement with you, or you're unable to add your name to the birth certificate).
4. HOW DO WE MAKE A PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY AGREEMENT?
You will need one form for each child which you find on the HMCS website.
You will have to sign the forms at the Family Proceedings Court, or a County Court. Alternatively, you could go to the Principal Registry of the Family Division in London - the address is on the form.
Make sure you take the correct documents with you. These are listed on the form. If you can't find your child's birth certificate you will need to get a replacement.
Once you have signed the forms you must send two copies of each to the Principal Registry. Provided everything is in order, the Registry will record the agreement, stamp the forms and send them back to you. There is no fee for this.
5. HOW CAN WE CHANGE OUR CHILD'S BIRTH CERTIFICATE SO MY NAME IS ON IT?
If you're the child's natural father and you want your name to be added to the birth certificate, you will have to re-register his or her birth.
6. CAN I APPLY FOR PR WHEN I AM NOT THE CHILD'S REAL DAD?
If your partner has a child already and you play a big parenting role in his or her life, you probably feel that this should be formally and legally recognised. So yes, it is possible for you to apply for PR. And because PR can be shared by more than two people, there's nothing to say you can't have PR for a child whose natural father also has PR. This can create separate, personal problems which will need to be resolved. To get PR for your partner's child, you'll need a 'residence' order from the court. This says that the child's home should be with you, and it gives you PR as well.
7. APPOINTING A GUARDIAN
If you don't manage to get PR, or you decide not to apply for it, you may be worried about what would happen to your child if his or her mother died. If your partner thinks it would be better for him or her to live with you, she needs to appoint you as his or her legal guardian. Read our article on writing a will for more information.
8. IF WE SPLIT UP, DOES HAVING PR MEAN I HAVE TO PAY MAINTENANCE?
Child Support and PR are not connected. They are set out in separate laws. All parents (either by birth or by adoption) have a duty to support their child financially, whether or not they have PR. PR has no effect on the amount that you can be made to pay.
9. DOES HAVING PR MEAN I HAVE THE RIGHT TO SEE MY CHILD?
No - that's a separate issue. PR does not give you extra rights, or strengthen your claim for contact with your child if you and his or her mother ever decided to split up.
10. CAN PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY BE TAKEN AWAY FROM ME?
Yes, but only by a court.
11. I'M A MUM. AM I GIVING SOMETHING AWAY IF I SHARE PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY WITH THE FATHER OF MY BABY?
No. Your rights as a parent aren't reduced if you share PR but the law does expect that both parents will, wherever possible, make joint decisions about their child's future.
12. MY PARTNER'S PREGNANT AND WE'RE NOT MARRIED. HOW DO WE SHARE PR?
As long as you're named as the baby's father on his birth certificate, then you will get PR.