The short answer to your question is yes, fathers do have the same parental rights as mothers. However, you should know that in the UK, whereas a mum automatically obtains parental responsibility as soon as her child is born, the situation is a bit more complicated for the dad.
How does a father obtain parental responsibility?
As a father, you automatically obtain parental responsibility if you’re either the mother’s husband or named on the birth certificate.
However, if this is not your case, you should be aware that if unfortunately, the mother dies, parental responsibility won’t automatically be passed on to you, even if you’re the biological father of the child. If you do have parental responsibility though, the law will consider you as the person to whom the child should be entrusted if a tragic event occurs.
If you didn’t automatically receive parental responsibility, you can apply for it here.
What are the parental rights and responsibilities we are talking about?
All mums and most dads have legal rights and responsibilities as a parent. These are collectively known as ‘parental responsibility’.
Having parental responsibility means that you play a key role in your child’s life until they reach the age of 18, whether they live with you or not. For example, you must support your kid financially and provide them with a home, as well as protect them from harm.
Although you don’t need parental responsibility for your role as a dad, obtaining this status allows you to legally have a say in important decisions. These include giving consent to medical treatment for your child, choosing or changing their school, applying for a passport as well as deciding upon their religious upbringing or where they should live.
How do you obtain parental responsibility in the UK?
In England and Wales, if the mother and father are married at the time of the birth, both have parental responsibility. The same applies if they’ve jointly adopted the child. If they divorce, they will both maintain their parental responsibility.
However, you can get parental responsibility if you’re not married by:
- Marrying the mother
- Jointly registering the birth of your child with the mum and adding your name as the father
- Making a parental responsibility agreement with the mum
- If you’re unable to do the two above, you can instead apply to the court for an order
- Applying to the court for a residence order.
If the birth was registered in Scotland or Northern Ireland, things work a little differently. You can check the government’s website for more information.
Can I obtain parental responsibility if I’m not the biological father?
Yes. If you play a significant role in the child’s life, you can also enjoy parental responsibility, even if you’re not their natural father (for instance, because you’re in a relationship with the parent of the child). Therefore, your role as a dad would be recognised by law.
Additionally, it’s important to know that in the UK, more than two persons can have parental responsibility. For example, the mother, her partner and the biological dad could all share parental responsibility. However, if the biological dad has parental responsibility, you will need his consent to obtain it yourself.
If unfortunately, the natural dad refuses to give you his consent, you can apply for a residence order in court. This way your child can live with you at your home and you can also have parental responsibility over them.
How does it work for same-sex couples?
Regarding same-sex couples with kids, the partner of the biological parent can have parental responsibility too. If they are married or civil partners at the time of the fertility treatment, then they both have parental responsibility. If this is not the case, the non-biological parent can:
– Apply for parental responsibility;
– Become civil partners and make a parental responsibility agreement or write both names on the birth certificate.