Fathers' Rights - How do I get parental responsibility?
Having Parental Responsibility for a child means that in law, you have the same rights as any other parent. You should be recognised by courts, schools, hospitals and any other public institution as a legal parent. It is the baseline of legal recognition.
Married parents automatically have parental responsibility if they split. For unmarried dads with children born before 1st December 2003 they do not have parental responsibility automatically. For children born after then as long as dad's name is on the birth certificate they also have parental responsibility.
1. If your child's mum agrees, you should have it
If you both agree that you should have PR, then it's very easy - download, print off and both sign two copies of a Parental Responsibility Agreement and this then has to be taken to a local family court. Two copies of the signed agreement must be lodged with the Central Family court in order to be binding.
2. If she doesn't sign a Parental Responsibility Agreement, what do I do?
You can make an application to the court. In considering an application from a father, the court will take into account:
the degree of commitment shown by the father to his child
the degree of attachment between father and child
the father's reasons for applying for the order
A court will not unreasonably reject an application for PR, and all decisions should be based on what it considers to be in the child's best interest.
What if I disagree with my child’s mum about arrangements for the children?
Many fathers are primarily concerned about their rights to see their children. If you can’t agree with your child’s mum about arrangements for the children, you can try and resolve matters in mediation and if mediation breaks down you can apply to the courts to make an order. In England and Wales, the earliest point in any court process at which this can be done is known as a directions hearing. If there is a degree of agreement between you, a consent order may be made.
In Scotland, your first chance to ask for interim orders would normally be at a Child Welfare Hearing, which is supposed to be held within three weeks of initiating proceedings concerning children in the Sheriff Court. You can have usually an emergency motion heard before this.
The court will try to help you and your child's mother reach an agreement. This is likely to involve a Cafcass officer. In England and Wales, Cafcass is the organisation charged with looking after the interests of children through the court process. If agreement cannot be reached, the court may make an order about whom the child is to live with and spend time with. However, it will only do this if it would be better for the child than not making an order.
In Scotland, the court might appoint a reporter who will either be a lawyer or a social worker, the latter typically only if there has already been social work involvement. The pursuer (i.e. the one launching the proceedings in the first place) usually has to pay for this as part of the legal expenses, though if they “win” the case the costs may be recoverable from the other party.
Step fathers rights to see children
It can be very difficult to maintain relationships with step-children after separation. Ideally, their mother will recognise and support her child’s ongoing relationship with you. If she prevents you from spending time with the child it is possible to apply for a Child Arrangement Order if the children lived with you for at least three years.
In Scotland, anyone showing an interest in the child can apply for a contact or other order concerning them. Being a step dad would almost certainly be sufficient grounds to ask a court for this – though not necessarily to get it.
Is the law biased against fathers?
The law itself is not biased against either mothers or fathers but individuals (including judges) can have their own attitudes towards the value of mothers and fathers to children. When the courts come to decide any matter concerning a child’s upbringing, their paramount consideration should be the welfare of the child. Increasingly, it is recognised that fathers have a significant role to play in their children’s lives after separation, and it's now relatively rare for a father to be denied contact altogether.
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About the author
Clare Kirby qualified as a lawyer in 1983 and worked for several years in industry. She founded Kirby & Co in 1997. As a member of Resolution and an advanced member of the Law Society’s Family Law Panel she is experienced and respected in the field of family law. Trained as a collaborative lawyer, Clare offers clients a range of options - traditional, and collaborative law - to best meet the needs of the individual clients.