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Fathers' rights and parental responsibility for unmarried couples

Parental responsibility is a legal term that means you have the right to be involved in important decisions like your child’s living arrangements, education, religion and medical treatment.

It’s not automatically given to all fathers, so it’s important to understand how it works, particularly if you’re going through a separation and dealing with childcare arrangements.

Who has parental responsibility?

Being the child’s biological father does not automatically give you parental rights. If you weren’t married when your child was born, you may not have parental responsibility. This will depend on how the birth was registered.

Registering the birth of your child

All births should be registered within 42 days (six weeks) of the baby being born. Birth certificates are required to have the details of the biological mother and – where possible – the details of the biological father.

In other words, if you’re not married to the child’s mother, you need to be present at the birth registration to guarantee your right to parental responsibility.

Who can register the birth?

It is usually the mother’s responsibility to register the birth, but the father can do it on his own if he is married to the mother.

An unmarried father can only register the birth on his own if the mother has made a statutory declaration acknowledging him as the father of the child, or if he brings along a parental responsibility agreement or a court order.

When an unmarried father doesn’t sign the birth register, his details aren’t included on the birth certificate and he is not given parental responsibility. If this is the case for you, there are two ways to get parental responsibility:

  1. Make a statutory declaration acknowledging that you are the father. The mother must give this to the registrar.
  2. Present a parental responsibility agreement or court order at the register office.

It’s also possible to re-register the birth at a later date to include your details. You’ll need the mother to agree to this.

What is parental responsibility?

Parental responsibility (PR) is a legal term, defined in the Children Act 1989 as:

all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authorities which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”.

Without parental responsibility, you don’t have any right to be involved in important decisions like where the child lives and goes to school. You could also be left out of big decisions like taking the child out of the country.

Since 1 December 2003, fathers who register a child’s birth with the mother automatically have parental responsibility. If your child’s birth was registered before this date and you were not married to the mother, you can apply to re-register the birth with the mother’s agreement, or apply for a court order or agreement.

You automatically have parental responsibility if:
  • You are the biological mother of the child.
  • You are the father of the child and are married to (or later marry) the mother.
  • You are an unmarried father and are registered on the birth certificate (this only applies to births registered since 1 December 2003).
  • You have adopted the child.
You do not have parental responsibility if:
  • You are an unmarried father and are not registered on the birth certificate.
  • You are not the biological parent, even if your partner is.
You can get parental responsibility in the following ways:
  • If you are the biological father:
    • You can re-register the birth with the mother.
    • You can make a PR agreement with the mother’s consent.
    • You can apply to the court for a PR order if the mother refuses to make an agreement.
  • If you are the partner of the biological parent and your partner’s child lives with you, you can get PR in one of several ways:
    • You can ask the court for a residence order.
    • You can make a PR agreement with consent from the child’s parents.
    • You can apply for a court order.
    • You can apply for an adoption order.
Further support has more information on parental rights and responsibilities.

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