Parental Responsibility in the Family Court

Unlike biological mothers a biological father does not always automatically obtain parental responsibility upon the birth of their child.
In the United Kingdom, section 3(1), Children Act 1989 defines parental responsibility as the legal rights, duties, powers, responsibilities, and authority that a parent has for a child and the child’s property.
There are a few ways a father can acquire parental responsibility in the UK:
1. If the father is married to the mother at the time of the child's birth. In this case, the father automatically has parental responsibility.
2. If the father is not married to the mother, he can acquire parental responsibility in the following ways:

  • By being named on the child's birth certificate (for children born after 1 December 2003 in England and Wales).
  • By subsequently marrying the child's mother.
  • By being named as the person with whom the child is to live with under a child arrangements order.
  • By obtaining a parental responsibility order from the court.
  • By making a parental responsibility agreement with the mother.
  • By being granted a residence order by the court.

To obtain a parental responsibility order or a child arrangements order (live with), the father must apply to the court. This may be something that could be resolved through mediation. The court will consider factors such as the relationship between the father and child, the father’s commitment to the child, and what is in the best interests of the child. The court has discretion in whether to grant the order.
A common misconception is that a declaration of parentage will provide a father with parental responsibility as he will then be named on the child’s birth certificate, this however, is not the case. Establishing legal parentage is a separate legal process from obtaining parental responsibility and a declaration of parentage will only prove the father’s legal status.