To marry, or not to marry, and the significance of this for parental responsibility

Posted by Christine Plews on
An interesting article published in this morning's Metro newspaper looked at the change in society's perception of children born to unmarried parents (or "out of wedlock" to revert to the old-school phraseology). 

According to a poll undertaken by the NatCen Social Research agency, only 37% of British people now think marriage should be a precondition to having children. This is in sharp contrast with the findings of a similar survey undertaken in 1989, when 70% of those interviewed thought that a couple should be married before starting a family.

In reality, families come in many different shapes and sizes, from traditional set-ups whereby parents marry then start a family, to more unusual arrangements, with birth mothers and surrogate mothers playing a role in their children's lives and having their own agreement for arrangements in this regard. It is interesting to see that marriage appears to be becoming less and less important to couples when deciding to start a family, a trend which is probably reflective of changes in perceptions of what a "family" is.

Whether or not a couple is married when their child is born, and, indeed, whether or not they are actually in a relationship at this time, both parents can (and should in most circumstances) play a key part in the child's upbringing through exercising parental responsibility. Whilst a father will automatically have parental responsibility where he and the child's mother are married, there are a number of options for an unmarried father to ensure that he has parental responsibility, as discussed by my colleague Laura in her blog post on acquiring parental responsibility.

The easiest way for an unmarried couple to make sure that they both have parental responsibility is simply to make sure that the father's name is stated on the baby's birth certificate when the birth is registered. However, as Laura discusses, there are other ways of making sure that a father has parental responsibility where this has not happened.

It may be the case that, as with other areas of Family Law, the concept of parental responsibility now needs updating to reflect society's ever-changing views on family structures. However, for now, unmarried couples should be confident that options exist which allow them to have an equal say in the upbringing of their children. 

About the Author

Photograph of Christine Plews

Christine leads the Family Practice Group and specialises in matters arising out of divorce and separation, including cohabitee disputes. She is an experienced mediator and is also a Consultant and Team Manager.

Christine Plews
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