Parental responsibility, according to UK law, applies to all the rights and duties that a parent has for their child and over their property. In the eyes of the law, when you have parental responsibility you have the right to make decisions as to your child’s present and future. While you have the legal right to see your child when you have parental responsibility this does not include contact, so in the event of a nasty divorce, the judge could leave your parental responsibilities in place but refuse any contact between you and the child. It is rare that the judge would bar you from contact with your child unless you had been particularly abusive in some way, but if contact issues cannot be agreed between you and the parent with whom your child is living, it may be difficult to maintain that contact.
Even when you do not have contact with your child, parental responsibility means that you can ask the school for a copy of any progress reports and you can also ask your child’s GP about their general health and welfare. Under the law a mother automatically has parental responsibility for a child, as does a married father irrespective of whether the child was born before or after the couple were married. Since December 2003, unmarried fathers who have their name on the child’s birth certificate have legal parental responsibility for any child born after that date. If a child was born before December 2003 then an unmarried father does not have automatic parental responsibility and will have to apply to the courts to obtain it. If you are a step parent you don’t have parental responsibility and if you want it you must apply for it.
Unless a father has parental responsibility for a child then he has no rights regarding that child for example where the child lives, its schooling and medical history. Fathers can obtain parental responsibility in a number of ways if they are not married to the mother.
- Apply and obtain a parental responsibility order from the courts
- Marrying the mother of the child
- Agreeing parental responsibility issues with the mother
A court will not grant parental responsibility to a father who they think does not have sufficient commitment to the child and this must be demonstrated before parental responsibility is given. You can only apply for an order if you have the child’s welfare at heart. Once you have it you will need to agree with the mother how it is going to be exercised responsibly. Parental responsibility orders usually remain in force until the child is 18. Just because you have parental responsibility does not guarantee contact with the child, you have to apply to the court for a contact order. When a couple is really estranged it is not always possible to enforce a contact order, particularly if there is a history of violence between the father and the mother.