Fathers' Access Rights in the U.K.

Updated July 19, 2017

A new law introduced by the British government in 2003 mandated that fathers named on a child's birth certificate have equal rights and responsibilities as mothers. These rights remain for life even if the child's parents are separated or have never been married. Fathers have a right to equal access to their child and to make decisions about their welfare. In practice, access is difficult to work out and sometimes a decision about which parent should see the child and when, is best made by the court.

Separated or divorced fathers

Fathers who are married to the mother at time of the child's birth have automatic parental responsibility and equal access rights as long as their name appears on the birth certificate. After a divorce access arrangements need to be worked out with your ex-spouse in the form of a parental responsibility agreement. This is best done directly with the mother or through a third party such as a family mediation agency. If you cannot agree on terms, you may need to go to court to obtain an access order. A solicitor or another third party can represent you or you can represent yourself. The court can also enforce any access order if the mother fails to abide by the agreement. The judge will treat you favourably if you make regular child maintenance payments.

Unmarried fathers with parental responsibility

Unmarried fathers only have access rights if their name is on the child's birth certificate. This can be done at birth or added at a later date. This gives fathers parental responsibility and a right to have a say in the child's upbringing even if they no longer live with the child. Decisions about day to day life are made by the parent who lives with the child but you must be consulted about big decisions such as schooling and medical treatment. You also have rights if you and your ex-spouse have signed a parental responsibility agreement and if you have a residence order made by the court.

Unmarried fathers without parental responsibility

If your name is not on the birth certificate and you don't have parental responsibility, you can still apply to court for access. You can apply to the courts for a contact order. You will need to prove that you have a meaningful relationship with the child and that contact will benefit him. The child's views will also be taken into consideration. You can also apply for a residence order to have the child live with you. The mother can apply to the court to have these orders removed .

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About the Author

U.K. journalist Jill Sainsbury began writing news for print and broadcast in 1990. Her work has featured on “BBC Online," magazines “The Journalist” and “Charlotte’s Mag,” and the “Hull Free Press." She has a Bachelor of Arts in geography from the University of Hull and a post graduate diploma in broadcast journalism from Falmouth School of Arts.