Under UK family law the birth mother of a child automatically has parental responsibility. Fathers get automatic parental responsibility (PR) rights if they are married to the birth mother. A father who is named on the birth certificate (and the baby was born after the 1 December 2003) also has PR.
However, unmarried fathers who are not named on the birth certificate do not have automatic rights of parental responsibility.
All parents, whether biological or adoptive, have a legal duty to support their children financially and this is not connected with PR.
When parents divorce it is usual that the children will live for the most part with one parent, most commonly the mother, and she will have a residence order or agreement to this effect. This does not alter the father’s parental responsibility rights – the non-resident spouse will retain rights for the provision of protection for the child and in maintaining their welfare, alongside some other important issues.
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When parents apply for a divorce they must prove to the court that they have made suitable arrangements for the children. A family court will not dissolve a marriage until it is provided with details of how the children will be cared for and maintained, and how arrangements for contact (visits, holidays etc with the non-resident parent) will work.
The non-resident parent’s PR rights mean that he or she still has a say in how the children are educated, where they live, how they are treated medically, and what they are known as even when they have left the family home. So, the parent cannot make any such decisions without first agreeing them with the non-resident parent.
If a parent fears that there is a risk of children being moved out of jurisdiction (away from their agreed home) the police and a family lawyer should be contacted immediately.
Parental responsibility does not automatically give the parent the right to contact with the children, but in most cases the court will agree that contact is in the best interests of the children. A parent may be denied contact if the court feels the children would be at risk.
If a parent wishes to challenge ways the other parent is caring for their child it may be prudent to speak to a family lawyer and in some cases, such as name changes, moving a child out of jurisdiction (abduction) or non-agreed medical treatment, it may be necessary to go to court to seek a ruling on the issue.
If you fear for your child’s safety or welfare when in contact with a former spouse you should contact the family law team at George Ide as soon as possible, so that we can help you understand your legal rights and, if necessary, involve the appropriate services as soon as possible.
If you wish to apply for parental responsibility, whether as a biological parent, grandparent, adoptee or because you have married the child’s mother, we can help you understand the procedure and will also be able to represent you if you need to apply for a court order regarding arrangements for children.
Our offices are located in Chichester and Bognor Regis and we are on hand to help in all divorce and family law issues. Call today to speak to an experienced, friendly member of our team.