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Does an unmarried father have rights?

What rights does an unmarried father have?
Rights for unmarried fathers

The number of unmarried parents have increased significantly in recent years. In the UK, almost half of children are now born outside of wedlock.

We receive many enquiries asking about the rights of unmarried parents and in particular, the parental rights of unmarried fathers .  

Andrew Stynes, Head of our Family Team, answers some of the most common questions about unmarried parents and rights to their children, including the rights for unmarried fathers.

Does an unmarried father have rights?

In short, an unmarried Father can have the same parental responsibility as a father married to the child’s mother.  

Parental responsibility is defined in section 3 of the Children Act 1989 as being all the “rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law, a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”.

Related: Unmarried Couples - How to secure your living together rights

Does an unmarried father have parental responsibility?

If a child’s parents are married when the child is born, both parents automatically have parental responsibility. 

If a child’s parents are not married when the child is born, the mother automatically has parental responsibility and the father acquires parental responsibility if:

  1. He obtains a parental responsibility order from a court.
  2. He enters into a formal written parental responsibility agreement with the mother, which is subsequently filed at court.
  3. The father jointly registered the birth with the mother and is named on the birth certificate. 

The above applies to births registered in England and Wales only.

Does a father have rights if they are named on the birth certificate?

Fathers with children born from 1st December 2003, who are registered on the child’s birth certificate, will have parental responsibility.

Father's rights if not on the birth certificate

In the UK, if a father is not named on the birth certificate they have no legal rights regarding their child.

However, the father can enter into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother. This would give parental rights to the father, the same as the mother.

Alternatively, the father can apply to court for a Parental Responsibility Order.

How long does parental responsibility last?

Parental responsibility lasts until the child is 18 or if the child marries between 16 and 18, on the child’s marriage, or until an adoption order is made.

A mother and married father will always have parental responsibility until the child is 18 unless an adoption order is made.

However, an unmarried father’s parental responsibility may be ended by a court order or as a result of an adoption or placement order.  This also applies to any other person who acquires parental responsibility by a Parental Responsibility Agreement or order.  The child or any other person with parental responsibility may apply to terminate parental responsibility.

Read more about acquiring parental responsibility here.

How can unmarried fathers spend time with their child?

The father can apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order.  This will set out when the child is to spend time with/live with the father.

It is the courts view that it is in the child’s best interest to have contact with both parents (unless there are circumstances to the contrary). When a court determines any question with regard to a child, the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration.

Although ‘custody’ is a commonly used term, the legal terms used by the courts are ‘live with and ‘time with’.

Find out more about Child Arrangement Orders and how to apply here.

Can an unmarried father have their child live with them?

An unmarried father can apply to the court for a ‘live with’ order and ask that the child predominantly lives with him.

The child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration. If no agreement can be reached between the child’s parents, the court would make an order of one form or another so that everyone knows exactly where they stand and what the future arrangements should be. 

Please note that the court can also grant an Order, which has not been specifically applied for. 

Can an unmarried father have joint custody order? 

A father can apply to the court for a ‘joint live with’ order. If granted, this would set out that the child is to live with both parents.

How does an unmarried father get a custody order?

If a father wishes to be the main carer for the child and have the child live with him, he must make an application to the court.

Can an unmarried father take a child abroad?

If you wish to take your child abroad on holiday, you must obtain:

  • Permission from everyone with Parental Responsibility; or
  • A court order.

If you take the child abroad without permission, it is child abduction.

The above also applies to the child’s mother, if the child’s mother wishes to take the child abroad.

However, if you have a child arrangements order in place, which says that the child lives with you, you can take a child abroad for 28 days without getting permission, unless the court order prohibits you from doing this.

Read our full article on separated parents taking children abroad here.

Can a father take his child from the mother UK?

If there's a court order in place that states that the child lives with the mother and spends time with the father and there are genuine concerns about the child's safety and/or wellbeing when the child is with the mother, then:

The father can remove the child from the mother but the father must make an emergency application to the court to get the current arrangements changed prior to removing the child.

How can an unmarried father prove his paternity?

If a dispute about paternity occurs, the courts can order that DNA testing be carried out.

Are there any steps to take prior to making an application to the court?

Unless the application to the court is urgent, the party applying to the court must attempt mediation.

Do step-fathers have parental responsibility?

A step-parent does not automatically have parental responsibility. But there are ways for step-parents to attain parental responsibility, which we outline in our dedicated article. Read it here.

Rights for unmarried fathers: Solicitors in Bournemouth, Poole, Christchurch and Ringwood

Andrew Stynes is Head of Family Law at Frettens. In an area of law that can be very complicated, his approachable team offer sensible, well-rounded advice, in clear, jargon-free language. Andy, and the rest of the family team, have experience with unmarried father's rights and custody rights for unmarried fathers.

Book a free appointment

Frettens are pleased to offer a free initial appointment for all new clients. We recognise the importance for clients of deciding whether they can work with a particular solicitor and to find out more about the process and likely outcome.

Our family lawyers offer positive, down to earth advice, and we hope that this initial meeting allows you the time to see this as well.

Contact us if you would like a free initial appointment ,regarding unmarried fathers rights, with a member of our Family Team at our Christchurch or Ringwood offices, with no obligation or charge. Call on 01202 499255 or fill out the form on the right.

The content of this article, blog or video is not intended as specific legal advice. For tailored assistance, please contact a member of our team.