In our last blog we wrote about the difference in legal position between unmarried and married parents in relation to financial provision for children. But another important legal distinction between unmarried and married parents is the issue of parental responsibility, which can easily be resolved at the time the child is born.

Those with parental responsibility for a child have a say in all the important decisions in the child’s life, e.g. education and religious upbringing. The mother of a child automatically has parental responsibility by virtue of being the mother, as does the mother’s husband at the time of the birth. But, if the parents are unmarried, then the father must be named on the birth certificate in order to have parental responsibility, and it is not possible to add your name to your child’s birth certificate after the birth has been registered unless you have parental responsibility. Failing this, a parental responsibility agreement will have to be entered into or an application to Court made.

The father’s lack of parental responsibility may not be an issue whilst the relationship is still rosy, but it often becomes an issue after separation. If the mother of the child is the only parent with parental responsibility, there is no legal requirement for her to consult with or get agreement from a father without parental responsibility – being the biological father makes no difference at this stage.

Some of the most important things that a mother could potentially do if the father doesn’t have PR are:-

Change the child’s name: surname and first name

Change which school the child attends

Take the child out of the country (for any length of time)

Give consent to a serious and irreversible operation

Even more seriously, if the child is put up for adoption, a parent without parental responsibility cannot interfere with the adoption of their own child without getting parental responsibility granted first.

The mother could also enter into a parental responsibility agreement with a new husband to grant him parental responsibility, giving him a say in these important decisions and leaving the biological father with no input into who looks after his child.

If you are an unmarried father with concerns that you may not have parental responsibility, check the position. If you do not and would like to obtain parental responsibility, it is wise to seek legal advice to help you enter into a parental responsibility agreement with the mother of your child or, if that is not possible, an application to Court can be made to be granted parental responsibility.

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