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Who has the parental rights to a child when not married?

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Parental Responsibility is defined by the Children Act 1989 as ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property’. This can include things such as where the child lives, which religion they should follow and how and where they are educated.

However, not everyone involved in a child’s life automatically has parental responsibility, so it’s important to know who is eligible and what the process is for applying for parental responsibility.

Who is eligible to have parental responsibility of a child?

In England and Wales, mothers and married couples have automatic parental responsibility of their child from birth. If you are not the mother or the married parents of a child but you are connected to the child in some way, e.g. step-parent or the second same-sex parent, you will need to apply to the courts for parental responsibility.

Although unmarried fathers do not have automatic parental responsibility, they can obtain it by any of these means:

  • Jointly registering the birth with the mother
  • Applying for a parental responsibility agreement with the mother
  • Applying for a parental responsibility order from the court

This process is different if you live in Scotland, Northern Ireland or if the birth was registered outside of the UK.

For same-sex couples in a civil partnership, they will both automatically have parental responsibility of the child if they were civil partners at the time of the treatment, e.g. donor insemination or fertility treatments.

For same-sex couples who are not in a civil partnership, the 2nd parent can obtain parental responsibility of a child by either:

  • Becoming a civil partner of the other parent and jointly registering the birth of applying for a parental responsibility agreement
  • If a parental responsibility agreement was made, applying for parental responsibility

Applying for parental responsibility

If you are eligible, then you can apply to the court to get parental responsibility.

It is worth noting that more than 2 people can have parental responsibility for the same child. These rules differ in Scotland, so it is worth checking what the procedure is if you live outside of England and Wales.

If you are the unmarried father of the child and want parental responsibility and the mother agrees, you will need to fill in a parental responsibility agreement. For step-parents there is a different form, so make sure you get the right one. Once this is filled out, it needs to be taken to your local court or family proceedings court to be signed and witnessed. It is important to bring the child’s birth certificate along, as well as your proof of identity.

If you can’t come to an agreement on arrangements for the child with the mother, you can apply for a court order which costs £215.

What happens to parental responsibility if you separate/divorce?

When parents separate or get divorced, it is important to make arrangements for the children as a priority. If you have parental responsibility for a child but you no longer live with them, you do not have the right to spend time with them. However, any important decisions that are made about the child’s life, such as where they go to school or moving abroad, must include the other parent who has responsibility. Any major decisions such as these must be agreed in writing by both parents with responsibility.

Both parents must ensure that their child is financially supported regardless of whether they have parental responsibility or not.

If both parents can’t come to an agreement about child arrangements, then they can apply for a Prohibited Steps Order or Specific Issue Order and a judge will decide what’s best for the child. This can be costly and take time, so it’s important to try and work out arrangements between you if possible.

Get advice about parental responsibility

Whether you’re looking to get parental responsibility for your child or if you need to make childcare arrangements after separation, Crisp & Co can help.

Our specialist child law solicitors can help you make critical decisions regarding your children with minimal costs and time involved.

Get in touch today by calling 020 8017 8962 or by filling in our enquiry form at the bottom of this page.