Child abduction and parental responsibility for unmarried fathers

19th January 2015 by

When a child is born to unmarried, cohabiting parents it may be difficult to foresee that there would ever be a need for family law legal advice from a solicitor, but if the birth registration process is not carefully conducted, a father can be left with little or no rights as a parent.

In 2011 it had been recommended by the (interim) Family Justice Review that a leaflet explaining the full significance of parental responsibility (PR) be given to parents when they register the birth of a child. This was deemed by many family lawyers as being ostensibly a reasonable idea, however, it was argued that only those fathers present at the registration would benefit and those fathers who were not able, or invited, to be present could still lose out significantly.

Birth registration and family law for unmarried parents
If an unmarried mother registers her baby’s birth without the father present she has the legal right to choose not to include the father’s details on the registration certificate.

Under English and Welsh family law a mother always has automatic parental responsibility for her child, however, this is not the case for the father.

If the parents of the child are married at the time of birth then the father has parental responsibility and this does not change even if the parents later divorce.

If the parents are unmarried, there are three ways a father can gain parental responsibility. These are:

  • by being named on the birth certificate as the father (from December 1 2003);
  • by entering into a PR agreement with the mother; or,
  • by applying for and receiving a PR order from the court.

To prevent the loss of parental rights by a father it is always preferable that both parents’ details (including adoptive parents) are included when the baby’s birth is registered.

Fear of child abduction and the parental rights of unmarried fathers
If a father does not have parental responsibility, his rights regarding the child’s welfare are few and the situation may even seem unfair as he has a legal responsibility to provide for the child financially whether he has PR or not. A mother with sole parental rights may decide to remove a child from jurisdiction or even leave the country and any chance of the father having adequate contact with the child may prove difficult to enforce.

If a father has been denied the chance to have his details entered on the birth registration document, especially if he fears the child’s welfare is at risk or if the child may be removed from the country, it is strongly recommended that he seeks the advice of an experienced family lawyer as soon as possible.

The experienced family law department at Healys LLP in Brighton and London has the benefit of being able to call upon the expertise of the practice’s international law department which can be of huge significance when an international child abduction case arises.

Our experienced family lawyers have many years of experience in helping father’s gain parental responsibility and of fighting their legal corner when it comes to issues of fair contact.

For more information on the service we provide, please contact Catherine Taylor on 01273 669 124 or email for Brighton. For London please contact Jane Sanders on 020 7822 4107 or email