Unmarried fathers and parental responsibilities

8 Mar 2022 | Sarah Scott

The 1st December 2021 marked the 18th anniversary of the amendment to the Adoption and Children Act 2002 which gave unmarried fathers the ability to acquire Parental Responsibility (which is the legal rights, responsibilities and duties that parents have in respect of their children, commonly called ‘PR’)  if they were named on the birth certificate of their child as of 1 December 2003. Prior to this, the only way a father would acquire PR automatically is if they were married to the birth mother at the time of the birth (irrespective of whether they were named on the birth certificate). Of course, this caused many issues and unsurprisingly there were many fathers that were completely unaware of their lack of rights regarding their children. It also meant that when the birth mother passed away and didn’t name the father in her Will (for instance because they had separated) those named as guardians would have PR, and therefore more rights than the biological father. Step-parents were also affected in the same way.

Parental responsibility comes to an end when the child turns 18 and so, thankfully, as of 1 December 2021, there are no longer any minor children that the previous law applies to. Of course, despite the amendment, issues still arise in situations where the birth mother refuses to name the father on the birth certificate and so there are still some unmarried fathers that do not have PR for their children. Step-parents, grandparents (or other relatives), non-birth parents and unmarried fathers who are in the situation above (where the mother refuses to name them on the birth certificate) can still acquire parental responsibility by one of the following options, although not all options are applicable in each case:

  • if they are named on a ‘lives with’ Order (as someone who the child lives with; this used to be called a “residence” order), by adopting the child,
  • being made a guardian by a parent who has parental responsibility,
  • by making a parental responsibility agreement with the birth mother or by an order of the Court.

If you would like to speak to a specialist family law solicitor about a Parental Responsibility matter, call Sarah Scott, or complete an online enquiry form.

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