Fathers Parental Rights – What you need to know
Rather than identifying father’s parental rights (Father’s rights) as such, the law in the UK uses the term ‘Parental Responsibility’. In Scotland the term Parental Responsibility and Rights is used. What Parental Responsibility basically equates to, is the legal duty of care you have to protect and care for your child.
Focus on Fathers Rights
The rights of fathers to spend time with their children is not set out in law in black and white. There is not a charter you can refer to. Within the framework of Parental Responsibility, there are rights identified to allow you as a father to contribute to decision making over your child’s future. These include:
- giving consent to medical treatment,
- choosing their school,
- deciding how they should be brought up,
- choosing their name and
- choosing their religion.
Parental Responsibility for Fathers – How do you get it?
You will automatically have Parental Responsibility for your child is you are married to their mother at the time of their birth. If you are not you will acquire it by jointly registering the birth of your child with the mother.
If this has not happened then it can be very straightforward to obtain if both the mother and father agree. What you need to do in those circumstances is simply download, print off and sign (both parties) a Parental Responsibility Agreement and send it off to the Court.
In the case where the mother does not agree to joint Parental Responsibility, an application to the Court can be made for the father to gain parental responsibility. In considering an application the court will take into account:
- the degree of commitment shown by the father to his child;
- the degree of attachment between father and child; and
- the father’s reasons for applying for the order.
At the end of the day, the Court is bound to base decisions on what it considers to be in the best interests of the child.
Access to children – protecting your position
Fathers rights to see children are often the priority for men who are separated from their ex-partner. If you can reach an agreement that is mutually acceptable with the mother then that is great. If you can’t reach an agreement then you should try to engage the mother in mediation.
If that does not work then you can apply to the Court to order interim contact. In England and Wales, the first point in the Court process at which this can be done is a Directions Hearing.
The court is there to facilitate an agreement between you and the child’s mother. This may involve a CAFCASS (children and family court advisory and support service) officer. If you and your ex-partner cannot reach an agreement, the Court may make an order about care and contact (previously referred to as ‘access’, ‘custody’, ‘residence’).
Is it different for Stepfathers?
Because of the difference in status, it can be very difficult for stepfathers to maintain relationships with step-children after separation. If an agreement can be reached with the mother then that is great but if the mother refuses contact between the stepfather and the child it is possible to apply for a Child Arrangement Order (previously referred to as a Contact Order) if the child lived with the stepfather for at least three years.
How does the legal system deal with Fathers?
The legal system in England and Wales, in theory, treats mothers and fathers as equals. Like any other strand of society, individuals can have their own attitudes towards the value of mothers and fathers to a child’s upbringing. This can manifest itself in the Courts even without those passing judgement being aware of their internal bias. However, any decision made by the Courts concerning a child’s upbringing, will always hold the welfare of the child as paramount.
It is rare for fathers to be denied contact with their children altogether in this day and age.