Unlike mothers, fathers do not always have what is known in U.K. law as parental responsibility. Parental responsibility is not defined in law but it covers everything from living and having contact with the child to choosing and providing for the child's education and religion. It is important for a father to know their rights especially in cases where children are born out of marriage. The law does provide several options for unmarried fathers even in cases where the mother is attempting to block access to children.
A mother automatically has parental responsibility for her child from birth but the unmarried father also has parental responsibility in many cases. In England and Wales, the father has responsibility if he jointly registered the birth with the mother, if he signs a parental responsibility agreement with the mother or if a parental responsibility order is made by a local family court. Even without parental responsibility, a father has the legal obligation to provide financially for his children. In Scotland, a father has parental responsibility if he is named on the birth certificate or he can be named following a re-registration of the birth at a local registry office. In Northern Ireland, the same is true as in Scotland.
Application for Parental Responsibility
In the U.K., a father can apply to the court to gain parental responsibility if the mother refuses to agree to it and sign an agreement. The courts will consider primarily the degree of commitment shown by the father to his child, the degree of attachment between the father and child and the father's reasons for applying for the order. The decision will always be made with the child's best interests at heart. Local courts can be found on the HM Courts Service website (see Resources).
Rights of Access
If you are in an unmarried couple who then decide to split up, it is best to make an agreement as to custody and contact arrangements beforehand. Working out these arrangements outside of court is less stressful and should lead to a better outcome for everybody. However in the cases of a dispute, you can claim for custody or contact by filling in form C100, available from the HM Courts Service website (see Resources).