What are my rights as a separated father?
The structure of family life has dramatically changed in the UK over the last 50 years, with over 10% of all fathers (that’s over one million men) now living separately from their children.
While 87% still have contact with their children, this is very different from living with them fulltime. Celebrations that used to involve the family spending time together, such as Father’s Day, can be particularly difficult. They can exacerbate feelings of loss, failure, grief, or anger, especially for the newly separated.
It is, of course, always to be hoped that separation can be ‘done well’, with both parents being amicable, cooperative and fully engaged with their children, but this is not always possible.
Regardless of whether you see your children every day or every other weekend you will always be a significant part of their lives, and so it is important to know what your rights and responsibilities are.
In this article we will look at your rights as a separated father.
The first thing to determine is whether you have parental responsibility for your child.
What is Parental Responsibility?
Parental responsibilities are the legal rights and responsibilities shared by mothers and most fathers in England and Wales as regards their children.
The most important aspects of parental responsibility are the protection and maintenance of the child, while providing a home.
Having parental responsibility for children you do not live with does not mean that you have a right to have contact with them, but it does mean that the other parent should keep you updated about their well-being and progress.
How do I know if I have Parental Responsibility?
As we documented in our article, ‘Divorce and Children: Common Questions’, all mothers have parental responsibility (unless surrendered through an adoption). For fathers, it is a little more complicated.
As a father, you have parental responsibility if:
- You were married to the mother when your child was born;
- You were unmarried when your child was born, but were named on the birth certificate and your child was born after 1 December 2003;
- You were unmarried when your child was born, but subsequently married the child’s mother
However: if your child was born before 1 December 2003 and you have remained unmarried, then only the mother automatically has parental responsibility.
Fathers can acquire parental responsibility by one of the following:
- Marrying the mother of the child after the birth;
- Entering a formal parental responsibility agreement with the mother
- Applying to the court for a parental responsibility order
- Being appointed as the child’s special guardian
How does Parental Responsibility affect my rights as a Father?
Having parental responsibility gives you a say in the upbringing of your children, even though you no longer live with them. It does not give you a right to see them. Nor does it mean that you are consulted on the general, day-to-day lives of your children, as that will be exercised by the person they live with.
It does, however, mean that, in making important decisions, you have the same rights as the mother towards your children. These decisions include:
- Changing schools
- Going on holidays with others/other organisations etc
- Serious medical issues
- Changing surname
- Their marriage
How do I get Parental Responsibility?
If you do not have Parental Responsibility, then you should ask your children’s mother if she will enter a formal Parental Responsibility Agreement with you. If she does agree, you can contact us if you need help to guide you through the procedure, which includes registering the agreement at the Central Family Court in London.
If the mother of your child refuses to enter a Parental Responsibility Agreement, then you will need to apply to the Family Court for a Parental Responsibility Order.
The court will consider:
- How committed you are as a father
- The attachment between you and your child, and
- Your reasons for applying for the order.
The court then will grant your application for parental responsibility if the judge believes it to be in the child’s best interests. In the great majority of cases, the granting of Parental Responsibility is indeed considered to be in the children’s best interests.
How we can help
Since this article has been published we no longer offer Family Law services but we can help you with:
- Wills, Probate & Power of Attorney
- Personal Injury
- Court of Protection
- Medical Negligence