Acquiring parental responsibility
The phrase 'parental responsibility' encompasses the rights, duties, powers, responsibility and authorities which by law a parent has in relation to their child.
A mother has parental responsibility automatically, but a father only automatically has parental responsibility if he is married to the child’s mother when the child was born or conceived, or if he later marries the child’s mother. Since 1 December 2003, unmarried fathers who are named on the birth certificate also automatically have parental responsibility.
Where an unmarried father is not named on the birth certificate, there are a number of options that he can pursue in order to acquire parental responsibility for their child.
A mother and father can sign a Parental Responsibility Agreement, which records that they are the parents of the child and agree that the child's father shall have parental responsibility going forward.
Alternatively, provided that no name has been recorded for the father on the birth certificate, the mother and father can apply to re-register the birth which replaces the original registration. There is no charge for re-registering the birth, although it is necessary to pay for an amended copy of the birth certificate. If both parents are able to attend their local Register Office then this is a relatively straightforward procedure. If one parent cannot attend the Register Office, the 'absent' parent will also need to complete a Statutory Declaration of Acknowledgement of Parentage, which must be declared in front of a magistrate, justice of the peace, solicitor, commissioner for oaths or notary public. In practice, therefore, it is often easier for both parents to attend the Register Office to re-register the birth.
If a mother will not agree to re-register the birth or sign a Parental Responsibility Agreement, a father has little option but to apply to the Family Court for a Parental Responsibility Order.
Prior to making such an application, a father is required to attend a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting. If the mediator believes that the issue is capable of resolution outside of the court process, they will encourage both parties to reach an agreement and therefore it may be possible to convince a formerly reluctant mother to sign a Parental Responsibility Agreement. If mediation breaks down or is ultimately unsuccessful, the mediator will sign the necessary document to allow the father to make a court application for a Parental Responsibility Order.
The best interests of a child will always be the court's paramount consideration. It is assumed, unless the contrary is shown, that the involvement of a parent in the life of the child will further the child's welfare. It can therefore be said with some certainty that there is a presumption in favour of both parents having parental responsibility for their child and it seems likely that, provided that a father can show that he is committed to the child and that he is motivated by a desire to do what is best for his child, it would only be in extreme circumstances that a court would not grant a Parental Responsibility Order.